Margaret Chan, who was yesterday elected the head of the World Health
Organization (WHO), said in Geneva that she would work "tirelessly" for global
"You can be sure that I will work tirelessly and keep my ears open to all
voices," the bird-flu expert told the 34 members of the WHO Executive Board,
which nominated her as the new WHO director-general.
Chan's nomination has to be
approved by a two-thirds majority of the decision-making World Health Assembly,
which will meet today with the participation of all 193 WHO members.
The World Health Organisation's 34-nation governing board has
nominated China's Margaret Chan as its new chief to guide the global
struggle against a threatened flu pandemic, infectious disease and chronic
assembly has never rejected the board's candidate.
Chan, who will become the first Chinese to head a major UN agency, had long
been the front runner in the race against four other candidates to replace South
Korea's Lee Jong-wook who died suddenly last May three years into his five-year
term as director-general.
In the final round of voting, she easily defeated Mexico's health minister,
Julio Frenk, by a vote of 24-10.
The other candidates in the final shortlist were Shigeru Omi, a Japanese
national who heads WHO's operations in Asia; Spanish Health Minister Elena
Salgado Mendez; and Kazem Behbehani, a senior WHO official from Kuwait.
Chinese Ambassador Sha Zukang, a veteran Geneva-based diplomat, smiled
broadly after the vote and said he was pleased. "Absolutely. One hundred per
cent," he told The Associated Press.
Chan was Hong Kong's health director during the SARS outbreak in 2003. She
joined the WHO later that year, and took over as the agency's influenza pandemic
chief in 2005.
As an assistant director-general, she has led the WHO's efforts to fight
communicable diseases; and to prepare for a possible pandemic should the bird
flu virus mutate into a strain easily transmitted among humans.
Minister of Health Gao Qiang said in Geneva that Chan's election as the new
WHO chief was a historic moment. He pledged that the nation would strengthen
co-operation with the WHO to improve global public health.
Speaking in Brussels, Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang said he had
congratulated Chan via telephone.
"It is our honour to have a Hong Kong person being appointed a head of a
United Nation's body, which is also the first time among Chinese people."
In Hong Kong, former Director of Health Lee Shiu-hung said the election
result indicated that the special administrative region's expertise had reached
international standards and recognized by the global community.
He believed Chan could play a bigger role in strengthening co-operation
between the WHO and China.
Chinese University's School of Public Health Director Sian Griffiths believed
Chan's excellent communication skills would enable her to obtain timely
information about diseases outbreak on the Chinese mainland.
The university's medical professor Joseph Sung said Chan was familiar with
the environment of South China, which was essential for controlling diseases
Hong Kong Baptist University government and international relations expert
Kenneth Chan said the victory was a milestone for China's participation in
"Chan's nomination shows that the nation is peacefully and rationally
engaging in global affairs, and that it is not defensive against the world. It
will help alleviate concern that the rise of China is threatening others," he
In Beijing, WHO Representative in China Henk Bekedam congratulated Chan. "I
am very happy to hear the news. She is a very energetic, easy-going person who
has a lot of experience in public health management," he said, adding Chan would
do an excellent job.
It is also exciting news for China, he said. "Although
she is from Hong Kong, she knows the Chinese mainland well. She knows well what
she needs to do here and in other developing countries."