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Margaret Chan, BA'73, MD'77, DSc99

The Guardian, UK | March 8, 2011

Margaret Chan
Director-General, World Health Organization

Margaret Chan, 64, has been on the frontline of the global fight against H1N1, SARS and avian influenza – and is now said to be the most powerful international public health official in history.

In January 2012, Chan was nominated for a second term as chief of the United Nation's World Health Organization (WHO). Director-General Chan was the only candidate put forward to the WHO's executive board who made the official nomination at a meeting in Geneva. The appointment is expected to be approved at the 65th World Health Assembly, scheduled to meet May 21-26/2012

Originally a teacher, she trained as a doctor in Canada before returning to Hong Kong and heading the health department – just in time to have to deal with an outbreak of avian influenza. After initially trying to reassure people chicken was safe to eat, she ordered a cull of all 1.5 million ducks and chicken in the country – and her decision was seen as crucial in stopping the virus. She was also at the helm when SARS hit, and while she was criticized for what was seen as a slow response, the then director general of the WHO was so impressed that he headhunted her saying, "You are the only person who has managed crises. I have many armchair experts. I need generals."

 

As well as battling international viruses, she is also trying to champion improvements in maternal care, HIV and AIDS care, malaria, and all of our most pressing diseases. When she was made director in 2006 she was clear about her priorities: "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."

However it was not long before she had to turn her attention again to global viruses. In June 2009 she became the first WHO chief in 41 years to announce a worldwide pandemic when H1N1 swept across the globe. This time around critics complained the public health expert had overreacted. The Council of Europe accused the WHO of having "gambled away" public confidence by overstating the dangers of the flu pandemic, in a draft report. But Chan is unrepentent, firmly stating,"That was the right call," - and in the UK at least the response to the pandemic was proportionate and effective, according to an independent review.

Read the complete story: The Guardian, UK


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