Margaret Chan

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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 byAnders Nordström (Acting)
Succeeded byTedros 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 73)
Hong Kong
Spouse(s)David Chan[2]
Alma materHong Kong Institute of Education (Cert Ed)
University of Western Ontario (BA, MD)
National University of Singapore (MS)
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 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. In early 2018 she joined the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).[2]

She was widely criticized for her handling of the 1997 H5N1 avian influenza outbreak and the 2003 SARS outbreak in Hong Kong, and for extravagant travel expenses while director-general of the WHO.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Chan was born and raised in Hong Kong, although her ancestors came from Shunde, Guangdong. 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[6] 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.


Early career[edit]

Chan joined the Government of British Hong Kong 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[edit]

Chan survived the transition from British to PRC-HKSAR rule in June 1997. 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 died, Chan first tried to reassure Hong Kong residents with her infamous statements like, "I ate chicken last night"[7] or "I eat chicken every day, don't panic, everyone".[8][9][10] When many more H5N1 cases appeared, she was criticized for misleading the public. [11] 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."[12] 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.[13]

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.[10] She was criticised by the Legislative Council for her passiveness,[14] for believing in misleading information shared by the mainland authority, and for not acting swiftly.[15] Her lack of political wisdom was evident in her indifference to media reports and widespread public fear at that time.[16] On the other hand, the SARS expert committee established by the HKSAR 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.[17]

Assistant to DGWHO[edit]

Chan left the Hong Kong Government in August 2003 after 25 years of service to join the World Health Organization. From 2003 until 2005, Chan served as the Representative of the World Health Organization Director-General for Pandemic Influenza and as Assistant Director-General for Communicable Diseases.

Director-General of WHO, 2006–2017[edit]

Chan served two terms of five years apiece as Director-General of the WHO. Appointed to the post in November 2006, Chan's 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]

First term[edit]

Margaret Chan and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2009

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]

In 2011, because of financial constraints in donor countries the WHO slashed its budget by nearly $1 billion and cut 300 jobs at its headquarters under Chan’s leadership.[27]

Second term[edit]

Margaret Chan with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in 2016

The WHO was 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 because of the slow response of the WHO to the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa.[29][30]

In 2016 at the request of the WHA, Chan launched the Health Emergencies Programme.

After WHO[edit]

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]

Other activities[edit]

  • Exemplars in Global Health, Member of the Senior Advisory Board (since 2020)[33]


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.[34]

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.[35]

Personal life[edit]

Margaret Chan is married to David Chan,[2] who is an ophthalmologist.[36]


  1. ^ a b 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. ^ a b c "Possible WHO head is Western grad". The London Free Press. 13 October 2006.
  3. ^ "Complete curriculum vitae of Dr Margaret Chan". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China. Beijing, China: People's Republic of China. 2005. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  4. ^ "Director-General: Dr Margaret Chan".
  5. ^ Cheng, Maria (22 May 2017). "Health agency spends more on travel than AIDS". Associated Press. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  6. ^ Helen Branswell (8 November 2006). "University of Western Ontario delighted med school grad named WHO chief". Canadian Press.
  7. ^ "The Flu Fighters". Asia Week. 30 January 1998.
  8. ^ "Zero bird flu=zero live chicken? Dissecting central slaughtering (in Chinese)". Sing Tao Daily. 6 September 2006. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 10 November 2006.
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ a b Matthew Lee (29 July 2005). "Swine virus fears mount". The Standard. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 9 November 2006.
  11. ^ "Margaret Chan "at the right time" (in Chinese)". Asia Times Online. 9 November 2006.
  12. ^ 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. doi:10.1177/02632760122051670. S2CID 143081579.
  13. ^ "Bird flu expert to lead WHO". BBC. 6 November 2006.
  14. ^ Matthew Lee (10 July 2004). "Legco censures Chan over SARS". The Standard. Archived from the original on 3 May 2009. Retrieved 24 July 2008.
  15. ^ "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.
  16. ^ Ma, Ngok (2004). "SARS and the Limits of the Hong Kong SAR Administrative State". Asian Perspective. 28 (1): 107.
  17. ^ Miriam Shuchman (15 February 2007). "Improving global health—Margaret Chan at the WHO". N Engl J Med.
  18. ^ Dr Margaret Chan: Biography, WHO website
  19. ^ "Chan sets out goals for WHO". The Standard. 10 November 2006. Archived from the original on 3 May 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2006.
  20. ^ Dr Margaret Chan nominated for a second term to be WHO Director-General, WHO web site
  21. ^ a b c 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 (2016), "The Emerging Zika Pandemic: Enhancing Preparedness", JAMA, 315 (9): 865–6, doi:10.1001/jama.2016.0904, PMID 26818622
  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. ^ Senior Advisory Board Exemplars in Global Health.
  34. ^ Margaret Chan Professional Experience
  35. ^ "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women". Forbes. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  36. ^ Mary Ann Benitez (8 August 2006). "Husband goes too, says Margaret Chan". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 18 May 2017.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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