Expert with Tamil roots part of Biden's Covid-19 team

Meet Dr Celine Gounder, expert with Tamil roots part of Joe Biden's Covid-19 task force

Dr Gounder's father is of Tamil origin while her mother's roots lie in Normandy

Dr. Celine Gounder. Credit: Twitter/@CMOTamilNadu

President-elect Joe Biden's administration has yet another Tamil Nadu link. Dr Celine Gounder, an HIV/infectious diseases specialist who has been named to the coronavirus task force set up by Biden, traces her roots to a nondescript village in Erode district.

Dr Celine's father Dr Raj Natarajan Gounder was born in Perumapalayam near Modakurichi in Erode district and moved to the US in 1960s and married Nicole Gounder, a French citizen in 1972. Celine is the eldest of the couple's three daughters and has been running a charitable trust in her late father's name in the village since 2018.

Read: Indian-American physician Vivek Murthy named co-chair of President-elect Biden’s coronavirus task-force

Biden's running mate is Kamala Harris, whose mother Dr Shyamala Gopalan was born in Chennai and moved to the US at the age of 19 to pursue her higher studies and settled there after marrying Donald Harris, a Jamaican.

The infectious diseases specialist flew down to her ancestral village in August 2018 and participated in the 72nd Independence Day celebrations at the government school, where her father did his early schooling. The trust, for the past two years, is awarding scholarships for students who come first in SSLC and HSC exams.

“Celine Gounder wanted to do something for her father's native village and hence she launched this trust. The government school where her father studied now has a smart classroom, courtesy Celine. She feels only education uplift people and hence she donated funds for the smart classroom. The foundation has been doing a lot of good work,” N Devaraj, Celine's relative and Secretary of Dr Raj Gounder Foundation, told DH.

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Celine has also been supporting around 30 disabled children, Devaraj said, adding that she personally called up and asked us to provide kits to the families of these children so that they can have nutritious meals. During her visit in 2018, Celine also met her father's elder brother Sengottaiyan.

Thangavelu, a resident of the village, said Dr Raj Gounder studied in the local school till the eighth standard and did his post-graduation from Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru. “The entire village is happy that Raj Gounder's daughter has made it so big in life. She visited our village in 2018 and spoke to us,” he said.

Celine also took to Twitter to share the news of celebrations at her father's native village.

"I'm extremely happy that @celinegounder & @vivek_murthy have been appointed in the National Pandemic Taskforce of US to combat #Covid19," he tweeted. "Both of them have made India proud and I'm very glad to learn that Dr Celine Gounder has a Tamil heritage. My best wishes to both of them," he said. 

Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and Opposition Leader M K Stalin congratulated her on finding a place in Biden's task force.

"Glad to hear about the appointment of Celine Gounder to President-Elect Joe Biden's National Pandemic Taskforce to combat Covid-19. Happy to hear about the appointment of a woman of Tamil origin to this crucial task force," Stalin said in a Facebook post.

"Congratulations & best wishes," he added.

Gounder is one of the members of the Covid-19 task force that will guide Biden on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed over 2,36,000 lives in the US.