News 358 views update:Sep 14, 2006

Harshly criticized Chan enters race to lead WHO

Dr Margaret Chan, who was harshly criticised for her handling of the bird flu (avian influenza) outbreak during her time as the Director of Health in Hong Kong, is tipped as the favourite to head the WHO.

Candidate nomination ended yesterday, to replace the late Dr Lee Jony Wook, who died suddenly in May, as the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Dr Margaret Chan, who is currently in charge of the WHO's response to bird flu, was the Director of Health in Hong Kong during 1994-2003, a period that coincided with the emergence of both avian flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome or Sars .

However, some dispute the manner in which Chan handled bird flu in Hong Kong.

When the H5N1 virus was first identified in 1997, nobody knew if it could spread to humans. Chan sought to reassure a jittery public by declaring, ''I eat chicken every day.''

It emerged that poultry were dying in great quantities, and the Department of Food Hygiene decided to intervene before a crisis developed. Even though Chan had famously told everyone to carry on eating chicken, the Hong Kong government slaughtered approximately 1.6 million and banned all chicken imports.

China is at the centre of a number of emerging health threats, in addition to avian flu, for which honesty and openness from China will be absolutely vital if a devastating global pandemic is to be prevented.

Editor WorldPoultry

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