Fri, May 23, 2003 - Page 5 News List

WHO's new leader pledges stronger epidemic network


Dr. Jong-wook Lee was elected director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday and then pledged to expand and strengthen the agency's response network to help alert the world to epidemics like SARS.

SARS is a wake-up call to the need to strengthen disease surveillance systems at local, national and global levels to fight other new and emerging diseases in coming years, said Lee, 58, the first South Korean to head a UN agency.

In addressing delegates from WHO's 192 members countries at their annual meeting, Lee said that he would seek US$200 million from donor countries to provide the staffing and education needed to improve disease monitoring. Ninety percent of the new funds would go to train more epidemiologists and develop field laboratories in poor countries as well as to evaluate the global response to new diseases like SARS.

Lee also said that a top priority of his administration would be to emphasize programs that benefit the poorest populations because poverty increases vulnerability to disease. He said he would continue to emphasize nutritional programs and those aimed at the leading infectious disease killers -- AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, which exert their greatest toll on poor people.

Lee, WHO's new leader, is an epidemiologist and expert on vaccines who has worked for the UN agency for 19 years. He was nominated for his new position in January.

Lee pledged to try to narrow the widening global health inequalities that lead to wide variations in longevity. For example, he compared the outlook for girls born last year.

A Japanese girl has a reasonable chance of living to see the 22nd century whereas an Afghanistan girl has a one in four chance of dying before the age of five.

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