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Bird Flu Expert Chan Elected Head of WHO


The newly elected director general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, says she will focus on the health needs of people in Africa and on the health of women. Chan was formally approved to head the 193-member organization at a special one-day session of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva.

The president of the World Health Assembly, the minister of health from Mozambique, Ivo Paulo Garrido, told the delegates what they had come to hear.

"The first special session of the World Health Assembly on the nomination of the Executive Board appoints Dr. Margaret Chan as director general of the World Health Organization."

When the applause died down, representatives from all regions of the world congratulated the newly elected head of WHO. They paid tribute to her predecessor, Jong-wook Lee, who died suddenly of a blood clot in May. They expressed confidence that his legacy would flourish under her leadership.

While noting the challenges from newly emerging diseases such as avian flu, they urged her to pay continued attention to the oldest diseases and biggest killers, including malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.

In her acceptance speech, Chan promised to work to improve the health of people in all regions and all countries. But she said the focus of her attention had to be on those in greatest need, on the health of the people of Africa and the health of women.

"The people of Africa carry an enormous and disproportionate burden of ill health and premature death," she said. "The health of the people of Africa must therefore be the key indicator of the performance of WHO."

Chan said the health of women also has an effect on their children and on others around them.

"Yet evidence from many sources also shows that women are agents of change for families, the workforce, and entire communities," she added. "The health of children largely depends on the health of women. Reducing health problems in women and empowering them will result in a dramatic increase in health-promoting behaviors-right where it counts most."

Margaret Chan is the first person from China to head a major United Nations agency.

China's health minister, Gao Qiang, congratulated Chan and urged her to fulfill her obligations toward all countries in a fair, just and honorable way.

In a subsequent news conference, Dr. Chan rejected suggestions from journalists that she would do China's bidding.

"Now, I am elected as the WHO's director-general, I do not, I no longer carry my nationality on my sleeves," she said. "I leave it behind. I took the oath just now to serve the interest of the World Health Organization, which consists of 193 member-states. I took the oath seriously."

But Chan indicated that she might be able to use her nationality to gain better access to senior government officials. She said she hoped to discuss with them issues of great importance to the world in public health.

China has been accused of hiding information about public health emergencies, such as SARS and avian flu.