Husband goes too, says Margaret Chan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2006, 12:00am

If the ex-health chief gets WHO job, he will join her

The former director of health, who is seeking the top job in the World Health Organisation, says her husband, who heads Hong Kong's eye hospital, will have to follow her to Geneva if she is elected.

Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, the WHO's assistant director-general for communicable diseases, was nominated last month by China for the WHO director-general's post.

'My husband supports [my candidacy] and he is prepared to join me if that is required. It will be required,' Dr Chan said from Geneva yesterday.

She has taken leave from her WHO job and set up her campaign base at the Hong Kong Trade Office in the Swiss city. Her husband, David, an ophthalmologist, is chief executive of the Hong Kong Eye Hospital in Yau Ma Tei, the city's main eye referral centre under the Hospital Authority.

'Geneva is a wonderful place, a wonderful city. I have so far enjoyed my three years here, although it is lonely living alone,' she said.

Four other candidates have been officially nominated: Shigeru Omi of Japan, Julio Frenk of Mexico, Pekka Pushka of Finland and Kazem Behbehani of Kuwait.

Former WHO director-general Lee Jong-wook of South Korea died in May, sparking the election. Dr Lee hired Dr Chan in mid-2003 to become what she termed an 'international civil servant'.

Dr Chan said she welcomed the fact there were many strong candidates vying for the post. 'It is good for an organisation to have strong candidates,' she said.

She said China's decision to nominate a Hong Kong person meant it was an honour for the city and its people.

'China does not take this decision lightly. It is a very important decision for China and Hong Kong and I also feel it is my duty to serve the country.'

If Dr Chan wins the top post, the couple will have come full circle. About 30 years ago, she said she switched careers from being a teacher to become a doctor to 'follow her heart'. Her husband-to-be was studying medicine in Canada. Dr Chan retired from the Hong Kong civil service after 25 years in July 2003 and moved to the WHO headquarters first as its director for protection of the human environment.

In September last year she was appointed assistant director-general as well as the representative of the director-general on pandemic preparedness.

Nominations for the top job close on September 5 and the WHO will nominate a new director-general between November 6-8. This will be followed by a special session of the World Health Assembly of 34 countries on November 9 that will vote to appoint the new WHO chief.