WHO chief wants to up Israelis' role

Exclusive: Israelis hold 2 out of the 9 Geneva headquarters positions.

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January 25, 2007 21:33
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Dr. Margaret Chan, the new director-general of the World Health Organization, has invited Israeli health professionals to contribute their experience and skills to the UN organization. "I welcome any help from every member country," Chan told The Jerusalem Post at a reception for the WHO's executive board this week. Two out of the possible nine Geneva headquarters positions currently are filled by Israelis. However, the WHO's executive board has 34 members who are qualified in the field of health, none of whom are Israelis. The agenda for the forthcoming World Health Assembly is agreed upon and resolutions for forwarding to the assembly are adopted at the board meeting, which will be held in Geneva in May. Chan, a physician from China, received her MD in Canada and began her career in public health in Hong Kong 30 years ago. She said her primary interests as secretary-general were health in Africa and women's health around the world. Chan expressed much interest about Israel's achievements in absorbing tens of thousands of Ethiopian immigrants and treating those suffering from infectious diseases with modern medical techniques and of its advances in women's health. Chan was director of health in Hong Kong for nine years. In that capacity she managed outbreaks of avian flu and of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Chan replaced Dr Lee Jong-wook of South Korea, who died at the age of 61 last May following a sudden illness. She took office January 1. Dr. Marc Danzon, head of the WHO's European Region, to which Israel belongs (years ago it was part of the Eastern Mediterranean Region, but its presence there became impossible due to opposition from the mostly Arab members), told the Post even though most countries felt their know-how was not adequately tapped by the WHO, Israel had "grounds for such a feeling." He said the reason was "not discrimination," but that Israeli health experts tended not to apply for jobs in the lower ranks of the organization, from where they could climb the rungs to reach senior positions in Geneva. Danzon, who has Israeli relatives and visits the country frequently, said Israeli expertise in medical fields was very high and that it should be used more by the WHO. Chan told the executive board she would continue ongoing reforms at the WHO but would not introduce changes that cause upheaval. "There will be some changes, but these will be gradual and carefully managed," she said. The WHO has managed to reduce the prevalence of measles, which can be deadly to children, especially in developing countries. In Africa, the region with the heaviest measles burden, deaths of children from measles have been cut by 75 percent. The WHO is also targeting malaria, which annually kills millions of children worldwide due to a lack of insecticide-infused mosquito netting.

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