Chinese candidate for WHO job is 'overdue'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 August, 2006, 12:00am

A top Finnish health official, who is one of the major contenders for the race to become the next World Health Organisation director-general, yesterday said it was about time that China fielded a candidate to head a UN agency.

Pekka Puska, the director-general of the National Public Health Institute of Finland, said: 'China is actually a great country and it is quite natural that China comes forward with a candidate.'

It is the first time that Finland and China have nominated candidates for the WHO top job in an election that many expect will go down to the wire.

'Of course, I know Dr Margaret Chan [Fung Fu-chun] as I know the other [contenders],' Professor Puska said.

He was referring to Dr Chan, the WHO assistant director-general for communicable diseases and former Hong Kong director of health whom Beijing has nominated.

'She is extremely competent and a good person. I know her very well,' Professor Puska said yesterday.

The two had known each other as they moved in the same public health circles before their respective stints with WHO, he said.

Professor Puska described Hong Kong as 'one of my favourite cities which I have visited many times and where I have many friends'.

He said the WHO elections would be about choosing the best person for the job.

'Finland and other Nordic countries have always been a strong supporter of the WHO, of a strong WHO. We feel that the world needs this kind of strong credible UN health agency [which could provide] global leadership and credible expertise,' Professor Puska said.