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Bird Flu Expert to Head WHO


An expert on bird flu, Margaret Chan, has been nominated to head the World Health Organization (WHO) . Dr. Chan's nomination as director-general is expected to be approved Thursday, during a special one-day session of the 193-member World Health Assembly in Geneva.

Representatives to the World Health Organization (WHO) erupted into applause when the executive board's Bolivian president announced the nomination of Margaret Chan to be the next director-general of the organization. Her appointment comes six months after the death of the previous director-general, South Korea's Lee Jonk-wook, who died of a blood clot in May.

Chan, 59, a former director of Hong Kong's department of health, will become the first person from China to head a major United Nations agency.

China's health minister, Gao Qiang, warmly congratulated Chan. He pledged to strengthen his government's cooperation with all WHO member states so as to contribute to public health.

China, in the past, has been accused of hiding information about public health emergencies, such as SARS and avian flu. Supporters say they believe China may be more transparent in the future with Chan in the world's top health post.

WHO's acting director-general, Anders Nordstrom, praised Chan for her technical and managerial skills as well as her abilities as a great communicator. "Today, I think also opens a new chapter in the history of WHO,” he said. “I think we have some enormous opportunity when it comes to global health and for WHO. Each director-general, of course, brings its personal flavor and leadership to this organization, but will also build on the achievements and the direction of the past."

In her acceptance speech, Chan paid tribute to her predecessor, Lee Jong-wook. She said he would always be remembered for his efforts to try to provide anti-retroviral drugs to 3 million AIDS sufferers around the world. She said she intended to take Lee's legacy forward if confirmed by the World Health Assembly on Thursday.

"I have the commitment, the passion, and the humility to serve the member states of this organization, this great organization,” she said. “I also have the determination to achieve results for health. I am sure we have the power to do so. We just need to be very smart in our planning and in our priority setting. And, most of all, be street wise in our actions."

As head of Hong Kong's public health department, Margaret Chan won praise for helping fight the world's first outbreak of bird flu in 1997. As the new WHO chief, she will be expected to tackle a wide range of health issues, including a threatened bird flu pandemic, AIDS, chronic illnesses and dilapidated health care in poor countries.