First-ever Israel visit by WHO secretary-general

An expert in infectious diseases, Dr. Margaret Chan was born in the People’s Republic of China.

WHO director Dr. Margaret Chan_311 (photo credit: WHO)
WHO director Dr. Margaret Chan_311
(photo credit: WHO)
Dr. Margaret Chan, secretary-general of the World Health Organization, will arrive at the end of this week to make her first visit – and the first by any WHO secretary-general – to Israel. Chan, who has been WHO secretary-general since 2006, is now in her second term, which is due to end in June 2017.
An expert in infectious diseases, Chan was born in the People’s Republic of China, studied medicine at Canada’s University of Western Ontario and then joined the Hong Kong department of health in 1978 and the UN organization in 2003.
Israel has long been part of the European division of the WHO, rather than the Eastern Mediterranean division it had previously joined, because the latter consists mostly of Arab countries that are hostile to the Jewish state.
Early in her first term, Chan told The Jerusalem Post in Geneva that she respected Israelis for their expertise in public health and invited more of them to contribute their professional skills to the WHO.
In her tenure so far as chief of the WHO, she has launched new services to prevent the spread of disease and promote better health. She has also introduced new initiatives to improve communicable disease surveillance and response, enhance training for public-health professionals and establish better local and international collaboration.
Chan is regarded as a strong and activist secretary-general. She has managed outbreaks of avian influenza and of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
She came under criticism in 2009 for what was claimed to be the WHO’s “failure” to control H1N1 avian flu before it spread from Southeast Asia and killed some 17,000 around the world.
But she was widely praised for dealing with the epidemic after it spread globally.
The WHO, which coordinates UN policy on health, has 190 members.
Chan will be accompanied by Zsuzsanna Jakab, who is the WHO’s regional director for Europe, and by Dr. Ala Alwan, who is a native of Iraq.
Prof. Ronni Gamzu, the Health Ministry’s director-general, invited Chan to Israel. She agreed but asked that a tour of the Palestinian Authority’s health facilities be included.
On Sunday, the delegation will visit ministry officials at its Jerusalem headquarters and then tour community clinics of Clalit Health Services and Maccabi Health Services in Modi’in. She will then visit Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, including its Dana Hospital, and meet people who run the clinic for African and other refugees in Tel Aviv. Chan will also tour Sheba Medical Center’s medical simulation center (MSR), headed by Prof. Amitai Ziv of Tel Hashomer.
On Sunday night, Health Minister Yael German will host the delegation for dinner, to be attended by senior health system leaders.
Chan will visit Yad Vashem on Monday and leave in the afternoon, when she will go to the Palestinian Authority and be hosted by its health minister.