Health Woman of the week

Margaret Chan, Former Director-General, World Health Organization

July 3, 2019

What would the world be without an effective healthcare system? What would we do without the people who dedicate their lives to caring for our health? We owe these people not just gratitude but the highest regard as well. Margaret Chan, a two five-year Director-General of the World Health Organisation, embodies the sacrifice and courage that health workers bring into their work in the interest of public health. She has engaged some of the deadliest diseases of a lifetime and under some of the most inauspicious circumstances at both local and global levels.

Chan’s tenure as Director-General of the World Health Organization ran from 2007 to 2017, before the current director general, Tedros Adhanom took over. An alumna of the University of Western Ontario, Canada, Chan obtained her medical degree in 1977 and went on to earn a master’s degree in public health from the National University of Singapore in 1985. She also did a programme in management development at the Harvard Business School. Her career in public health began in 1978 when she joined the Hong Kong Department of Health where she rose to become its director in 1994.  The innovative services that Chan introduced in this role helped particularly in the prevention of the spread of diseases and generally improved the health of the residents of the city.  She was praised for effectively managing the avian flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreaks in Hong Kong in 1997 and 2003 respectively.

After nine years as Director at the Hong Kong Department of Health, in 2003, Chan joined the World Health Organisation as the Director of the Department for Protection of the Human Environment. In 2005, just two years later, she moved on to another WHO role as Director, Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Response as well as Representative of the Director-General for Pandemic Influenza. In the same year, she became Assistant Director-General for Communicable Diseases, and ultimately the Director-General of the organisation in 2007.

Chan’s two five-year terms as Director-General were remarkable for the far-reaching changes and results they earned the organization. This was in spite of the daunting and complicated nature of the challenges that confronted the world health body in that decade. This was the era of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), indicating the emergence of drug-resistant microbes that complicate(d) treatment of tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria, for instance. There was also the onslaught of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), and global health emergencies like the Ebola and Zika epidemics. She has been praised for improving health and life expectancy and for her role in the pursuit of universal health coverage. In 2018, she was appointed to the Council of Advisors of the Boao Forum of Asia.

The 38th world’s most powerful woman in 2016, according to Forbes, Margaret Chan is our Woman of the Week because she represents leadership, development, and service.



Boao Forum of Asia. Dr. Margaret Chan, Tues. 18 June 2019, http://english.boaoforum.org/gyltqrlsen/40141.jhtml

Encyclopaedia Britannica. Margaret Chan, Tues. 18 June 2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Margaret-Chan

Forbes. Margaret Chan, Tues. 18 June 2019, https://www.forbes.com/profile/margaret-chan/#13cbf1b43676

Wikipedia. Margaret Chan, Tues. 18 June 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Chan

World Health Organization. Biography of Dr Margaret Chan, Tues. 18 June 2019, https://www.who.int/dg/chan/en/