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GENEVA -- Dr. Margaret Chan of China will be the next director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO). Following her appointment, she told the World Health Assembly she wanted to be judged by the impact WHO's work has on the people of Africa and on women across the globe.
In her acceptance speech, Chan said, "what matters most to me is people. And two specific groups of people in particular. I want us to be judged by the impact we have on the health of the people of Africa, and the health of women. Improvements in the health of the people of Africa and the health of women are key indicators of the performance of WHO. All regions, all countries, all people are equally important. This is a health organization for the whole world. Our work must touch on the lives of everyone, everywhere," she said. "But we must focus our attention on the people in greatest need."
Chan was nominated on Wednesday by the WHO executive board and her appointment was confirmed on Thursday by the World Health Assembly. The director-general is WHO's chief technical and administrative officer. She was previously WHO assistant director-general for communicable diseases and representative of the director-general for pandemic influenza.
Mike Leavitt, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, commented, I congratulate Dr. Margaret Chan on her nomination as the next director-general of the World Health Organization. The United States government looks forward to working with Dr. Chan, and to continuing our close collaboration with the WHO secretariat on a range of pressing public-health and scientific issues. All of the candidates for the position of director-general had impressive credentials, and the decision was a difficult one. The WHO is an important body dedicated to the health needs of every person in the world, and I am honored to have led the U.S. delegation to take part in this historic election. Dr. Chan is a strong leader, with a proven record on managing health programs. And as director of Health for Hong Kong, Dr. Chan led the successful response to the outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and highly pathogenic avian influenza. I am confident she will ensure WHOs role as the premier global health agency, guided by scientific excellence and is well- prepared to meet the many challenges it faces.
Chan obtained her medical degree from the University of Western Ontario in Canada and also has a degree in public health from the National University of Singapore. She joined the Hong Kong Department of Health in 1978, and was appointed as director of health in 1994. As director, she launched new services focusing on prevention of disease and promotion of health. She also introduced new initiatives to improve communicable disease surveillance and response, enhance training for public health professionals, and to establish better local and international collaboration.
The procedures for the current nomination and election process were decided following the sudden death of Dr Lee Jong-wook, WHO director-general, on May 22, 2006. At its meeting on 23 May, the WHO Executive Board agreed on an "accelerated process" for electing a director-general.
Chan paid tribute to her predecessor: "We are all here because of the untimely death of Dr Lee Jong-wook. We are also all here because of many millions of untimely deaths. I know Dr. Lee would have wanted me to make this point. He will always be remembered for his 3by5 initiative. That was all about preventing untimely deaths on the grandest scale possible."
Chan told the assembly that as director-general she would focus on six key issues for WHO: health development, security, capacity, information and knowledge, partnership, and performance. She emphasized the importance of global health security in her vision of the Organization's role: "Health security brings benefits at both the global and community levels. New diseases are global threats to health that also bring shocks to economies and societies. Defense against these threats enhances our collective security."
Underlining the importance of strong systems to deliver health care to the people who need it, she said: "All the donated drugs in the world wont do any good without an infrastructure for their delivery. You cannot deliver health care if the staff you trained at home are working abroad."
She especially praised the people who deliver healthcare. "The true heroes these days are the health workers with their healing, caring ethic. They are determined to save lives and relieve suffering, and they work with impressive dedication, often under difficult conditions. The world needs many, many more of them."
Chan outlined the diverse approaches needed to strengthen health and healthcare in different parts of the world: "Many countries in Africa face the challenge of rebuilding social support systems. Others in central Asia and Eastern Europe are undergoing transition from planned to market economies. They want WHO support. They want to make sure that equitable and accessible systems built on primary healthcare are not sacrificed in the process."
She said she would strengthen WHO's commitment to gather, analyze, and build recommendations based on evidence: "I plan to set up a global health observatory to collect, collate and disseminate data on priority health problems. I will integrate WHOs research activities to more strategically address a common health research agenda."
There is a growing number of initiatives and players in the field of global health; Chan said she would work strategically with partners to deliver the best possible results for global health. " Today, collaboration to achieve public health goals is no longer simply an asset. It is a critical necessity. WHO needs to develop an approach to collaboration that emphasizes management of diversity and complexity."
Turning her attention to the internal management of WHO, Chan said, "I will also accelerate human resource reform to build a work ethic within WHO that is based on competence, and pride in achieving results for health."
She also addressed the challenges ahead of the organization: "As we know, not all of the problems faced by WHO in its efforts to improve world health are subject to scientific scrutiny, or yield their secrets under a microscope. You know the ones I mean: lack of resources and too little political commitment. These are often the true 'killers'."
Ending her address, Chan repeated her pledge to work hard to improve the health of people around the world. "The work we do together saves lives and relieves suffering. I will work with you tirelessly to make this world a healthier place."