Dr LEE Jong-wook: Biography

LEE Jong-wook was nominated on 28 January 2003 by the World Health Organization's Executive Board for the post of Director-General of the agency and elected to the post on 21 May by the Member States of WHO for a five-year term.

Prior to his work as Director-General, Dr Lee was a world leader in the fight against two of the greatest challenges to international health and development - tuberculosis, and vaccine preventable diseases of children. Since the appointment as Director of the Stop TB Department in WHO in 2000 – and building on previous experience as head of the Global Programme on Vaccines and Immunization – Dr Lee rapidly built what is internationally recognized as one of the most successful and dynamic global public-private partnerships for health; the Global Partnership to Stop TB. Credited by the Boston Globe as having brought the leadership and political skills needed to build consensus and ‘spur former antagonists to work together’, Dr Lee led the growth of a remarkable and complex coalition of more than 250 international partners that includes WHO Members States, donors, NGOs, industry and foundations.

Dr Lee’s work in tuberculosis control and vaccines demonstrated his personal strategic focus on health interventions to reduce poverty. In accelerating movement to reach the global immunization goals – including polio eradication – and hastening progress towards the global TB control targets, he led efforts which will make a substantial contribution to reaching the Millennium Development Goals. Shortly after his appointment to Stop TB, he launched the Global Drug Facility (GDF) - a new initiative to increase access to TB drugs, with substantial financial support from several multilateral agencies, governments and foundations, the GDF has already made a significant impact and is increasingly being viewed as a model for increasing access to drugs for other diseases of poverty, such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.

His commitment to action and focus on countries ensured that what counts is results – a feature that has been clearly evident from early in his career. As head of polio eradication initiatives in the Western Pacific from 1990 to 1994, he oversaw a reduction in reported polio cases from 5963 to 700 in the Region. In 1994, Dr Lee moved to WHO headquarters in Geneva as Director of the WHO Global Programme for Vaccines and Immunization (GPV) and Executive Secretary of the Children’s Vaccine Initiative – a global campaign to catalyze development of new and improved vaccines for children. He quickly established a reputation as a visionary leader and strong manager. Dubbed as WHO’s ‘Vaccine Czar’ by the Scientific American magazine in 1997, he was responsible for a series of strategic developments in GPV. These included an open approach to working with industry, a review of the short-, mid- and long-term mission of GPV, an increase in funding from $15 million to nearly $70 million between 1994 and 1998, and management reforms to assure the highest technical competence of staff and increase the proportion of women in professional posts.

In 1998, having joined the newly formed cabinet as Senior Policy Adviser to the Director-General of WHO, he was closely involved in the WHO reform process, and maintained a strong commitment to supporting Members States by strengthening the regional and country structure of the Organization. As Special Representative of the Director-General, he was responsible for several crucial WHO initiatives, including those in the Horn of Africa and East Timor.

Dr Lee probably knew WHO better than most, having worked for more than 20 years in technical, managerial and policy positions at all levels in the Organization – country, region and headquarters. He began his WHO career in 1983 as a leprosy consultant in the South Pacific, and a year later was appointed team leader for leprosy control in the South Pacific. In 1986 he moved to the Western Pacific Regional Office in Manila, initially in the Regional Leprosy Control Programme and later as Regional Adviser on Chronic Diseases.

Since Dr Lee took office as Director-General, the Organization has achieved some notable milestones in public health; ratifying the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (the first public health treaty negotiated by WHO); adopting a revised set of International Health Regulations; and leading the health response to avian influenza, the Asian tsunami, and the Pakistan earthquake.

The Director-General released several landmark publications with the aim of prompting a substantial response to some of the greatest health challenges facing the world, most notably the annual World Health Reports, which have focused on the AIDS treatment gap (2004); the appalling burden of suffering and death faced by pregnant women and children, with a call to 'make every mother and child count' (2005); and a commitment to address the health workforce crisis facing most developing countries (2006). The Report for 2007 takes the theme of health and security, emphasizing the central relationship between health, peace and human security.

Prior to joining WHO, Dr Lee worked for two years at the LBJ Tropical Medical Centre in American Samoa. A national of the Republic of Korea, he received his Medical Doctor (MD) degree from Seoul National University Medical School of Medicine, and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Hawaii, School of Public Health.

Dr Lee was born in 1945. He is survived by his wife and son, two brothers and a sister and their families.