Margaret Chan: A to ZBMJ 2009; 339 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b3106 (Published 30 July 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3106
- Jane Parry
- 1Hong Kong
Being director general of the World Health Organization is one of those jobs in which you are never truly on holiday even when officially you are. On home leave in Hong Kong recently, Margaret Chan was still closely watching the progression of the A/H1N1 influenza epidemic, and it would not have surprised her to be called back to Geneva at short notice.
Of all people involved in global public health, Chan is arguably best placed to know how quickly a newly emerging disease of zoonotic origin can become a highly dangerous and unpredictable threat to human health. It was her experience in handling two such outbreaks of infectious diseases in Hong Kong—H5N1 avian flu in 1997 and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003—that propelled her out of her home city and into WHO in Geneva at the invitation of her predecessor Lee Jong-wook.
Born in Hong Kong 62 years ago, Chan obtained her medical degree from the University of Western Ontario. On returning to Hong Kong, not being a graduate of a local medical school effectively prevented her from pursuing her goal of specialisation in paediatrics, and instead she joined the civil service, working in maternal and child health. Obtaining a masters in public health soon after set her on the path of a career …