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Former World Health Organization director general Margaret Chan has risen to the apex of global public-health leadership, and was instrumental in the fight against avian flu and Sars

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The director general of the World Health Organization from 2006-2017, Margaret Chan made history as the first Chinese person to lead a major UN agency.


During her two terms in charge, Chan made efforts to focus the United Nations’ public health agency’s resources on those in the most need. She previously made her name working for the Hong Kong government, which she joined as a medical officer in 1978, rising to the position of director of health from 1994-2003. She was heavily involved in the fights against avian flu in 1997 and the Sars virus in 2003, notably taking unpopular steps that were subsequently credited with stopping the spread of H5N1 (bird flu).


Chan, a Chinese-Canadian, is a member of the council of advisers to the BOAO Forum for Asia—sometimes referred to as the “Asian Davos”—as well as a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and is a JP who has been awarded an OBE.

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Before taking up the top job at the WHO, Chan was the UN agency’s assistant director general for communicable diseases.

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