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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 November 2006, 18:08 GMT
Bird flu expert to head up WHO
Dr Margaret Chan
Dr Chan has tackled bird flu and Sars
A Chinese expert on bird flu has become the next head of the World Health Organization.

The WHO's top decision making body, the World Health Assembly has approved the appointment of Margaret Chan on Thursday.

As WHO director-general, Dr Chan has become the first Chinese person to head a major UN agency.

She replaces South Korea's Lee Jong-wook who died suddenly last May three years into his five-year term.

Dr Chan beat off challenges by Mexico's Health Minister Julio Frenk, Japan's Shigeru Omi, a senior WHO official, Spain's Health Minister Elena Salgado and another top WHO official, Kuwait's Kazem Behbehani in final voting on Wednesday.

Dr Chan has been overseeing the WHO's response to the threat of bird flu, and a possible flu pandemic.

Extensive experience

Previously, she spent nine years as director of Hong Kong's department of health, where she won praise for helping fight the world's first outbreak of bird flu in 1997.

Dr Lee Jong-wook
Dr Lee died in office

Her decision to cull about 1.5m poultry in the face of opposition was seen as crucial in helping to stem the spread of the virus.

She also has experience in dealing with another deadly respiratory disease, Sars, which spread from Asia into other parts of the world in 2002-2003.

However, she was criticised at home for allegedly failing to get speedy information from mainland China where the disease began

In her acceptance speech, Dr Chan said: "What matters most to me is people and two specific groups of people in particular.

"I want us to be judged by the impact we have on the health of the people of Africa, and the health of women.

"This is a health organization for the whole world. Our work must touch on the lives of everyone, everywhere.

"But we must focus our attention on the people in greatest need."

Dr Chan's appointment may help to consolidate China's relationship with the WHO although some critics are concerned it could also complicate her dealings with China which is playing an increasingly pivotal role in global health.

WHO chief dies after blood clot
22 May 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Obituary: Dr Lee Jong-wook
22 May 06 |  Asia-Pacific

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