Margaret Chan, WHO's former Special Representative of the Director General for Pandemic
Influenza, will be the agency's next Director-General, it was revealed at the organisation's
headquarters in Geneva on Nov 8. The decision of WHO's 34-member Executive Board to
nominate Chan as their preferred candidate was confirmed by vote in a special 1-day
World Health Assembly to be held at the UN building in Geneva, the Palais de Nations,
on Nov 9.
Of the 13 candidates originally in the running for the top WHO post, Chan, who was
nominated by China, was among the favourites from the start. Despite rumours of a
whispering campaign against her focusing on alleged failures during Hong Kong's reaction
to severe acute respiratory syndrome, which Chan led as Director of Health in Hong
Kong, Chan garnered the largest number of votes from WHO's Executive Board during
the shortlisting process, which was finalised on Nov 6. Kazem Behbehani, a WHO Assistant
Director General nominated by Kuwait, Julio Frenk, Mexico's health minister, Shigeru
Omi, WHO's Asia Pacific Regional Director nominated by Japan, and Elena Salgado Méndez,
Spanish health minister, were the other four candidates to make the shortlist.
Chan is a popular appointment according to WHO insiders. She brings to the role an
extensive knowledge of communicable diseases from her time as Assistant Director-General
at WHO—a post she was appointed to by former Director-General Lee Jong-wook, amid
rumours that China disapproved of the move. She is a medical doctor with a career
in public health stretching back to 1978. However, she has been criticised by observers
of the WHO Director-General election campaign for having only very limited experience
of developing-country health systems.
In a speech accepting her election, Chan pledged to continue Lee's work and articulated
her commitment to WHO. “Rest assured that I will work tirelessly with my eyes on the
goals we agreed on together, my ears open to the voices of all, and my heart committed
to the populations of your countries”.