New WHO head to work on outbreak responses

  • Nation
  • Friday, 23 May 2003

PETALING JAYA: Dr Lee Jong-wook of South Korea, who was elected the next Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday, 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.  

Following his visit to Beijing recently, Dr Lee confirmed the urgent need for stronger disease surveillance and response mechanisms at local, national and global levels. 

“SARS is the first new disease threat of the 21st century, but it will not be the last,” he said in his acceptance speech to the assembly in Geneva.  

Substantial funding had already been committed, and 90% of the resources would go towards building disease surveillance capacity at country and regional levels, he said. 

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. “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 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.”  

While non-communicable diseases are taking a heavier toll and accounted for more than 45% of the world's disease burden in 2001, there has been little progress in reducing maternal mortality rates over the last decade. There is also a huge challenge in the area of mental health, he said. He also voiced concern over widening global health inequalities. 

“Many countries face critical gaps in infrastructure, medical technologies and human resources for health. Investment in health systems in developing regions remains inadequate. Countries, donors and international agencies have yet to work out a coherent and effective response,” he said. 

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 naive,” Dr Lee said. “They emerged from the most destructive war the world has ever seen.”  

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