Dr Jong-Wook Lee elected as Director-General of the World Health Organization
Announces Major New Expansion of Disease Surveillance and Response
Geneva, 21 May 2003 - Dr Jong-Wook Lee of the Republic of Korea has today been elected as the next Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr Lee was elected by the World Health Assembly, which brings together all 192 Member States of WHO, following his nomination to the post at the Executive Board meeting in January. He is the first person from the Republic of Korea chosen to head a United Nations agency.
Dr Lee announced that he would immediately expand and strengthen the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network to identify and respond to disease outbreaks around the world. "SARS is the first new disease threat of the 21st century, but it will not be the last," Dr Lee said in his acceptance speech to the Assembly.
There is an urgent need for "stronger disease surveillance and response mechanisms at local, national, and global levels," said Dr Lee, who recently travelled to China to see for himself the problem posed by SARS and how it is being tackled.Substantial funding has already been committed, he added, and 90% of the resources will go to build disease surveillance capacity at country and regional levels.
In his speech, Dr Lee praised the dedication and commitment of Dr Carlo Urbani, a WHO colleague who first identified SARS in Hanoi and subsequently died of the disease. "Carlo Urbani has given us an image of WHO at its best," said Dr Lee. "Not pushing paper, but pushing back the assault of poverty and disease."
Dr Lee told the World Health Assembly, "The world today needs leadership in the ongoing struggle for security and justice. Security from infections, and justice for those worst affected by diseases of poverty."
He recalled the commitment of the WHO Constitution to work for the highest attainable standard of health for every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief or economic or social condition. "These commitments are not naïve," Dr Lee said. "They emerged from the most destructive war the world has ever seen."
The Director-General Elect emphasised his clear commitment to improving primary health care across the world and to achieving clear, measurable results in countries. "We must renew the fundamental commitment to equity expressed by "health for all," he said. "WHO must work to translate this ideal into measurable results."
Dr Lee said his five key priority areas will be: Meeting the health targets of the Millennium Development Goals; Shifting resources to serve countries more effectively; Running WHO more efficiently; Ensuring that WHO becomes more accountable, both financially and in its contribution to health outcomes; and Strengthening human resources both inside WHO and within Member States.
He concluded his speech with a call for wide participation and urgent action: "In my work at WHO and as a physician before joining the staff, I learned the value of listening ... Sharing ideas will be vital in the coming months. But our final test lies in action. Let us unite our strength for the work ahead."
Dr Lee, who has worked for the World Health Organization in many capacities and many countries for two decades, will take office and begin his five-year term on 21 July, 2003. He will succeed Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland who has been WHO Director-General since July 1998.
Dr Jong-Wook Lee was born on 12 April 1945, in Seoul, Republic of Korea. He received a Medical Doctor degree (M.D.) from Seoul National University and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Hawaii. He has worked at WHO for 19 years in technical, managerial and policy positions, notably leading the fight against two of the greatest challenges to health and development: tuberculosis and vaccine preventable diseases of children. After heading the WHO Global Programme for Vaccines and Immunizations and serving as a Senior Policy Advisor, he became, in 2000, Director of the Stop TB department, which includes the WHO strategic and technical programmes on TB and houses the Secretariat of the Global Stop TB Partnership, a coalition of more than 250 international partners including WHO member states, donors, non-governmental organizations, industry and foundations. Dr Lee is married and has one son. He speaks English, Korean and Japanese, and reads French and Chinese.