Margaret Chan

Last updated

This is a Hong Kong name; Fung is the maiden name and Chan is the married name.
Margaret Chan
Margaret Chan - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2011 crop.jpg
Margaret Chan at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in 2011
7th Director General of the World Health Organization
In office
9 November 2006 1 July 2017
Preceded by Anders Nordström (Acting)
Succeeded by Tedros Adhanom
4th Director of Health, Hong Kong
In office
June 1994 ─ 20 August 2003
Preceded byLee Shu-Hung
Succeeded byLam Ping-Yan
Personal details
Margaret Fung Fu-chun

(1947-08-21) 21 August 1947 (age 72)
British Hong Kong
Canadian [1]
Spouse(s)David Chan [2]
Alma mater Education University of Hong Kong
University of Western Ontario
National University of Singapore
Margaret Chan
Traditional Chinese 陳馮富珍
Simplified Chinese 陈冯富珍

Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, OBE , JP , FRCP [3] (born August 21, 1947) is a Chinese-Canadian [1] physician, who served as the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) delegating the People's Republic of China [4] for 2006–2017. Chan was elected by the Executive Board of WHO on 8 November 2006, and was endorsed in a special meeting of the World Health Assembly on the following day. Chan has previously served as Director of Health in the Hong Kong Government (1994–2003), representative of the WHO Director-General for Pandemic Influenza and WHO Assistant Director-General for Communicable Diseases (2003–2006). In 2014, Forbes ranked her as the 30th most powerful woman in the world. [2]


Early life and education

A native of Shunde, Guangdong, where Chan's ancestral home located, Chan was born and raised up in Hong Kong. Chan was initially trained as a home economics teacher at the Northcote College of Education, now the Education University of Hong Kong. She then earned her BA degree in home economics [5] at Brescia University College an affiliated institution of the University of Western Ontario (UWO) in 1973 and her MD degree at UWO in 1977. She later earned her MSc (public health) degree at the National University of Singapore in 1985. Chan completed the Program for Management Development (PMD 61) at Harvard Business School in 1991.



Chan joined the Hong Kong government in December 1978 as a medical officer. In November 1989, she was promoted to Assistant Director of the Department of Health. In April 1992, she was promoted to Deputy Director and, in June 1994, was named the first woman in Hong Kong to head the Department of Health.

Director of Health in Hong Kong, 1994–2003

Her profile was raised by her handling, in those positions, of the 1997 H5N1 avian influenza outbreak and the 2003 SARS outbreak in Hong Kong. After the first victim of the H5N1, Chan first tried to reassure Hong Kong residents with her infamous statements like, "I ate chicken last night" [6] or "I eat chicken every day, don't panic, everyone". [7] [8] [9] When many more H5N1 cases appeared, she was criticized for misleading the public. [10] She became "a symbol of ignorance and arrogance epitomizing the mentality of 'business as usual' embedded in the ideological and institutional practices within the bureaucracy, especially after the hand-over." [11] In the end, she was credited for helping bring the epidemic under control by the slaughter of 1.5 million chickens in the region in the face of stiff political opposition. [12]

Her performance during the SARS outbreak, which ultimately led to 299 deaths, attracted harsh criticism from the Legislative Council of Hong Kong and many SARS victims and their relatives. [9] She was criticised by the Legislative Council for her passiveness, [13] for believing in misleading information shared by the mainland authority, and for not acting swiftly. [14] Her lack of political wisdom was evident in her indifference to media reports and widespread public fear at that time. [15] On the other hand, the SARS expert committee established by the Hong Kong Government to assess its handling of the crisis, opined that the failure was not Chan's fault, but due to the structure of Hong Kong's health care system, in which the separation of the hospital authority from the public health authority resulted in problems with data sharing. [16]

Chan left the Hong Kong Government in August 2003 after 25 years of service to join the World Health Organization.

Director-General of WHO, 2006–2017

From 2003 until 2005, Chan served as the Representative of the WHO Director-General for Pandemic Influenza and Assistant Director-General for Communicable Diseases.

Chan finished her second term as Director-General of the World Health Organization on June 30, 2017. [17] Appointed to the post in November 2006, her first term ran through to June 2012. [18] In her appointment speech, Chan considered the "improvements in the health of the people of Africa and the health of women" to be the key performance indicator of WHO and she wants to focus WHO's attention on "the people in greatest need." [19] On 18 January 2012, Chan was nominated by the WHO's Executive Board for a second term [20] and was confirmed by the World Health Assembly on 23 May 2012. [21] In her acceptance speech, Chan indicated that universal coverage is a 'powerful equaliser' and the most powerful concept of public health. [21] Chan's new term began on 1 July 2012 and continued until 30 June 2017. [21]

In February 2007, Chan provoked the anger of humanitarian and civil society groups [ who? ] by questioning the quality of generic medicines while on a visit to Thailand. [22]

In 2010 Chan was criticised [ who? ] for "crying wolf" about the 2009 flu pandemic, which turned out to be much milder than expected. [23]

After a visit to North Korea in April 2010, Chan said malnutrition was a problem in the country but that North Korea's health system would be the envy of many developing countries because of the abundance of medical staff. [24] She also noted there were no signs of obesity in the country, which is a newly emerging problem in other parts of Asia. Chan's comments marked a significant departure from that of her predecessor, Gro Harlem Brundtland, who said in 2001 that North Korea's health system was near collapse. [25] The director-general's assessment was criticised [ who? ], including in a Wall Street Journal editorial which called her statements "surreal." The editorial further stated, "Ms. Chan is either winking at the reality to maintain contact with the North or she allowed herself to be fooled." [26]

Under Chan’s leadership, the WHO slashed its budget by nearly $1 billion and cut 300 jobs at its headquarters, because of financial constraints in donor countries. [27] Shortly after, the WHO was also accused [ who? ] of deferring to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad when polio made a comeback in that country in late 2013. [28] In 2014 and 2015 Chan was again heavily criticised [ who? ] because of the slow response of the WHO to the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa. [29] [30]

Other activities

In 2018, Chan joined the Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health, a group convened by Michael R. Bloomberg and Lawrence H. Summers to address preventable leading causes of death and noncommunicable diseases through fiscal policy. [31] The same year, she was appointed to the Council of Advisors of the Boao Forum for Asia. [32]


In 1997, Chan was given the distinction for the Fellowship of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians of the United Kingdom and was also appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. [33]

In 2014, Chan was ranked as the 30th most powerful woman in the world, based on her position as Director-General, by Forbes. Her ranking increased from 33rd in 2013. [34]

Personal life

Margaret Chan is married to David Chan, [2] who is an ophthalmologist. [35]

Related Research Articles

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Severe acute respiratory syndrome Respiratory disease caused by the SARS coronavirus

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2002–2004 SARS outbreak Epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome originating in China

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  1. 1 2 Young, Ian (28 May 2013). "From Hong Kong to Canada and back: the migrants who came home from home". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 25 July 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 "Possible WHO head is Western grad". The London Free Press . 13 October 2006.
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  4. "Director-General: Dr Margaret Chan".
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  8. "Chan wins. Lead Health department for 10 years, slaughter chicken to stop bird flu (in Chinese)". Ta Kung Pao. 9 November 2006. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 10 November 2006.
  9. 1 2 Matthew Lee (29 July 2005). "Swine virus fears mount". The Standard . Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 9 November 2006.
  10. "Margaret Chan "at the right time" (in Chinese)". Asia Times Online. 9 November 2006.
  11. Ku, Agnes S. (2001). "The 'Public' up against the State: Narrative Cracks and Credibility Crisis in Postcolonial Hong Kong". Theory, Culture & Society . 18 (1): 133.
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  13. Matthew Lee (10 July 2004). "Legco censures Chan over SARS". The Standard. Archived from the original on 3 May 2009. Retrieved 24 July 2008.
  14. "Report of the Select Committee to inquire into the handling of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak by the Government and the Hospital Authority". Legislative Council of Hong Kong. July 2004.
  15. Ma, Ngok (2004). "SARS and the Limits of the Hong Kong SAR Administrative State". Asian Perspective. 28 (1): 107.
  16. Miriam Shuchman (15 February 2007). "Improving global health—Margaret Chan at the WHO". N Engl J Med.
  17. "World Health Assembly elects Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as new WHO Director-General". Geneva: World Health Organization. 23 May 2017. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  18. Dr Margaret Chan: Biography, WHO website
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  20. Dr Margaret Chan nominated for a second term to be WHO Director-General, WHO web site
  21. 1 2 3 Dr Margaret Chan appointed to a second term as Director-General, WHO News Release, 23 May 2012
  22. "WHO Chief's Stand on Generic Drugs Slammed". IPS. 2 February 2007. Archived from the original on 13 March 2007.
  23. "World looks for a better doctor". POLITICO. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  24. "UN health chief praises N. Korean health system as 'envy'". AFP. 30 April 2010. Archived from the original on 5 May 2010.
  25. Jonathan Lynn (30 April 2010). "North Korea has plenty of doctors: WHO". Reuters.
  26. "Health Care Paradise". The Wall Street Journal. 3 May 2010.
  27. Stephanie Nebehay and Barbara Lewis (May 19, 2011), WHO slashes budget, jobs in new era of austerity Reuters .
  28. Somini Sengupta (January 6, 2015), Effort on Ebola Hurt W.H.O. Chief  New York Times .
  29. Somini Sengupta (6 January 2015), "Effort on Ebola Hurt W.H.O. Chief", New York Times, retrieved 20 January 2016
  30. Daniel R. Lucey, Lawrence O. Gostin, "The Emerging Zika Pandemic: Enhancing Preparedness", JAMA , doi:10.1001/jama.2016.0904
  31. Michael R. Bloomberg and Lawrence H. Summers Create Task Force to Address Preventable Leading Causes of Death and Noncommunicable Diseases Through Fiscal Policy Bloomberg Philanthropies, press release of January 18, 2018.
  32. Council of Advisors Boao Forum for Asia.
  33. Margaret Chan Professional Experience
  34. "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  35. Mary Ann Benitez (8 August 2006). "Husband goes too, says Margaret Chan". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 18 May 2017.

Further reading

Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Anders Nordström (Acting)
Director-General of the World Health Organization
Succeeded by
Tedros Adhanom