New era. Lee took over as WHO head today.

New WHO Chief Aims at Infectious Diseases

Infectious diseases have come out on top in a shakeup of the World Health Organization (WHO) by new Director-General Jong-wook Lee. On his first day in office, Lee announced several new high-level positions dedicated to the fight against HIV/AIDS and polio, as well as an initiative to train young doctors and researchers in developing countries who are a first line of defense against global epidemics such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

In a speech today in Geneva, Lee said WHO would have a plan in place by 1 December for providing 3 million HIV-infected people with antiretroviral drugs by the end of 2005. He also announced the creation of a new Health Leadership Service training program for public health professionals from developing countries. WHO will sponsor 2-year stays for young doctors, nurses, and other professionals at WHO country and regional offices as well as the Geneva headquarters. Program graduates will return home to defend the front lines in fights against endemic disease as well as new and emerging threats, Lee told reporters.

Lee also announced the creation of a new high-level position dedicated to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Jack Chow, former special representative for the U.S. Department of State for HIV/AIDS, will head the new division. Lee, a 20-year veteran of WHO (ScienceNOW, 28 January), chose eight of his 11-member cabinet from organizations outside WHO. There's geographic diversity as well: In addition to the U.S., they come from the United Kingdom, Ghana, Kuwait, Canada, France, Germany, Russia, China, Sweden, and Botswana. "Judging by the number, quality, and type of advisers he has appointed, [Lee] is looking for a truly global perspective," says Walter Dowdle, who consults for the WHO effort to eradicate polio.

Lee appointed former cabinet member David Heymann, who was in charge of communicable diseases under former Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland, to direct the WHO effort against polio. The creation of the new job is unexpected, Dowdle says, but he takes it as a positive sign. "It's a signal of [Lee's] commitment to polio."

Related site
Text and streaming video of Lee's inaugural speech

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