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WHO to Speed Up Search for New Director General

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it wants to move quickly to appoint a new director general, following the death earlier this week of Lee Jong-wook.

The process of choosing a director-general normally takes about one year. But the acting director-general of the World Health Organization, Anders Nordstrom, says the executive board can speed up the nominating process.

"What is needed is an executive board to review candidates, to make a nomination to the World Health Assembly," he said. "And the next World Health Assembly is, of course, not until a year's time. But, it is absolutely possible for the board next week to decide to have an extraordinary World Health Assembly. It could just be a day meeting to then de facto appoint a new director general."

The previous Director-General Lee Jong-wook died Monday morning, just as the World Health Assembly was about to open its annual weeklong conference. His death, following brain surgery, shocked the delegates at the meeting and upset the normal process of work.

On Friday, WHO's 192 member-states unanimously adopted a resolution to voluntarily implement international health regulations relating to avian influenza and to the threat of a human influenza pandemic.

Dr. Nordstrom says this decision will allow WHO to carry on with monitoring missions on the ground, provided the agency gets the resources it needs.

"The number of missions from WHO has gone up like this during the last year," he added. "And we expect now, with this decision, which is more of a political commitment, that we will be able to accelerate even more. Though, there is a need for people and money."

Dr. Nordstrom says the assembly also agreed to intensify efforts to achieve the global eradication of polio by the end of 2007, and to put stronger measures in place to reduce the high mortality rate from malaria, especially among children in Africa.