Chinese bird flu expert will head the WHO

Dr. Margaret Chan, a Chinese expert on bird flu, is to be the next head of the World Health Organization (WHO).

It is expected that the World Health Assembly will approve the appointment of Dr. Chan as the director-general of WHO, making her the first Chinese person to head a major UN agency.

Dr. Chan will replace South Korea's Lee Jong-wook who died suddenly last May three years into his five-year term.

Fifty nine year old Dr. Chan faced fierce competition from Mexico's Health Minister Julio Frenk, Japan's Shigeru Omi, a senior WHO official, Spain's Health Minister Elena Salgado and another top WHO official, Kuwait's Kazem Behbehani in the final round of voting.

Dr. Chan is currently overseeing the WHO's response to the threat of bird flu, and the possibility of a flu pandemic.

She has had extensive experience and spent nine years as director of Hong Kong's department of health, where she won praise for helping fight the world's first outbreak of bird flu in 1997.

It was Dr. Chan's decision to cull about 1.5m poultry in the face of stiff opposition which was crucial in helping to stem the spread of the virus.

She also has experience in dealing with another deadly respiratory disease, SARS, which spread from Asia into other parts of the world in 2002-2003.

However, she was criticised at home for allegedly failing to get speedy information from mainland China where the disease began.

Dr. Chan has promised if she became director-general that she would focus on fighting chronic diseases such as Aids and tuberculosis.

She believes no other international or national agency can reach the scene of an outbreak as fast or with better technical expertise than the WHO.

Many hope Dr. Chan's appointment will help consolidate China's relationship with the WHO but some critics are concerned it could also complicate her dealings with China which is playing an increasingly pivotal role in global health.

Dr. Chan qualified as a doctor at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and also studied at the National University of Singapore, where she obtained a degree in Public Health.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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