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Bird Flu Expert Nominated As Head Of Health Agency

Chinese Bird Flu Expert Nominated As New Head Of UN Health Agency

New York, Nov 8 2006 11:00AM

A Chinese doctor who has played a key role in United Nations efforts to prevent bird flu from mutating into a deadly human pandemic was today nominated to become the new head of the UN health agency.

Margaret Chan, who until July was the top UN World Health Organization (WHO) official for communicable diseases and the point person for pandemic influenza, was chosen by WHO’s Executive Board from a short list of five to succeed Director-General Lee Jong-wook, who died suddenly in May.

The World Health Assembly, WHO’s supreme decision making body, will meet in Geneva in a one-day special session tomorrow to formally appoint the next Director-General.

In July, Dr. Chan took a leave of absence from her WHO positions in connection with her candidacy for the position of Director-General.

In 2003, she became Director of WHO’s Department of Protection of the Human Environment. In June 2005, she was appointed Director, Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Response and Representative of the Director-General for Pandemic Influenza as well as Assistant Director-General for the Communicable Diseases cluster.

Dr. Chan obtained her medical degree from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. She joined the Hong Kong Department of Health in 1978, where her career in public health began.

In 1994, she was appointed Director of Health of Hong Kong. In her nine-year tenure she launched new preventive and promotive health care services. She also introduced new initiatives to improve communicable disease surveillance and response, enhance training for public health professionals, and establish better local and international collaboration.

She has effectively managed outbreaks of avian influenza and of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a flu-like disease which over a nine-month period from November 2002 to July 2003 infected more than 8,000 people, killing 774 of them, mostly in China and elsewhere in Asia.

In March, Dr. Chan presided over a meeting of 70 public health experts in Geneva to draw up an operational plan to contain an initial outbreak of human pandemic flu. Although containing a pandemic at its source has never been tried before, evidence that it may be possible has been mounting.

“It may be that containment efforts would only slow the spread of a pandemic,” she said then. “But even that will buy us time so that countries can begin activating their pandemic preparedness plans and companies can begin on the lengthy process of manufacturing an effective human pandemic vaccine.”

The so-called Spanish flu pandemic that broke out in 1918 is estimated to have killed from 20 million to 40 million people worldwide by the time it had run its course two years later.

Anders Nordström, appointed Acting Director-General of WHO in May, will continue in his role until the new Director-General takes office.


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