Info Service on Health Issues (May 06/3)
WHO Director-General dies
The article below reports
on the unexpected death of the Director General of the WHO. It is reproduced
with permission from the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 6033,
23 May 2006.
WHO Director-General dies
By Kanaga Raja
The World Health Assembly
started in a sombre mood Monday morning with the news that the Director-General
of the World Health Organization Dr Lee Jong Wook had died just a few
Dr Lee passed away at 7.43 am on Monday following surgery in a hospital
in Geneva on Saturday to remove a blood clot on his brain (a subdural
haematoma). He was 61 years old and is survived by his wife and son.
The Assistant Director-General for General Management Dr Anders Nordstrom
(who is a national of Sweden) will serve as Acting Director-General.
Further arrangements for succession to the post of Director-General
are expected to be discussed at the WHO's Executive Board meeting starting
on 29 May.
Dr Lee, a national of Korea, had been the WHO Director-General since
21 July 2003. His death came just before he was due to open this year's
session of the World Health Assembly.
As the WHA opened, the Spanish Health Minister Elena Salgado (who was
in the chair) announced Dr Lee's death. "It is a very sad bit of
news," she said, adding that Dr Lee was an exceptional person and
an exceptional Director-General.
A one-minute silence was observed by the Assembly. The proceedings of
the WHA were delayed and by late afternoon many items, including the
speech of the Director-General, had not yet been covered.
Many delegates were shocked by the news of Dr. Lee's death, with many
saying that it was "a very sad day".
Dr. Lee had worked for the WHO for 23 years, at country and regional
levels, and at headquarters in Geneva. He had previously headed WHO's
"The sudden loss of our leader, colleague and friend is devastating,"
said a WHO press statement. "He led the WHO to continue its mission
to help people attain the highest possible level of health."
Another WHO press statement said that Dr Nordstrom will be the Acting
Director-General. He was appointed by the Director-General as his deputy
in November 2003, but the appointment stated that Dr Nordstrom would
not perform the functions of Deputy Director-General unless Dr Lee were
unable to perform the functions of his office.
Under the Rules of Procedure of the WHA, and in accordance with the
decision of the Director-General, Dr Nordstrom, as senior officer of
the Secretariat, will serve as Acting Director-General, the statement
At a press briefing Monday, Dr Bill Kean, Executive Director in the
Office of the Director-General, in announcing the death of Dr Lee, said
that the matter is now before the members of the WHA.
Discussions are being held with the President of this year's session
of the WHA and the Chairman of the Executive Board. The Board is to
hold its regular session next Monday, and one of the first items on
the agenda of the Board will be the issue of the Director-General, he
According to Kean, following the current rules of procedure, an election
for the new Director-General should take place in January 2007, for
confirmation by the WHA in May. The new Director-General would be elected
for a five-year term.
In response to a question, Kean noted the informal rotation system (among
the five regional groupings in the WHO) for the election of a new Director-General,
saying that of the last four Directors-General, two were from Asia and
two from Europe. There has been no Director-General from Africa.
''As Acting Director-General, he [Dr Nordstrom] would be taking the
full responsibility of that role with all decision-making necessary,''
Kean said, in response to another question.
Meanwhile, the plenary session of the WHA was delayed, with many of
the pending items still not covered by late afternoon.
On Tuesday, the WHA is scheduled to discuss the avian flu pandemic,
poliomyelitis, HIV/AIDS, smallpox eradication, and sickle-cell anaemia.
The highlight will be a speech by Prince Charles of the United Kingdom
starting at 3.00 p.m.
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