Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, OBE, JP[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 she was ranked as the 30th most powerful woman in the world according to Forbes.[citation needed]

Education and employment history

Born in Hong Kong as Margaret Fung Fu-chun, 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.

She 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. In 1997, she 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.[6] She left the Hong Kong Government in August 2003 after 25 years of service to join the World Health Organization. She finished her second term as Director-General of the World Health Organization on June 30, 2017.[7]

Director of Health in Hong Kong

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"[8] or "I eat chicken every day, don't panic, everyone".[9][10][11] When many more H5N1 cases appeared, she was criticized for misleading the public. [12] 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."[13] 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.[14]

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.[11] She was criticised by the Legislative Council for her passiveness,[15] for believing in misleading information shared by the mainland authority, and for not acting swiftly.[16] Her lack of political wisdom was evident in her indifference to media reports and widespread public fear at that time.[17] 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.[18]

Tenure as WHO Director-General

Appointed to the post in November 2006, her first term ran through to June 2012.[19] 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."[20] On 18 January 2012, Chan was nominated by the WHO's Executive Board for a second term[21] and was confirmed by the World Health Assembly on 23 May 2012.[22] In her acceptance speech, Chan indicated that universal coverage is a 'powerful equaliser' and the most powerful concept of public health.[22] Chan's new term began on 1 July 2012 and continued until 30 June 2017.[22]

In February 2007, Chan provoked the anger of humanitarian and civil society groups by questioning the quality of generic medicines while on a visit to Thailand.[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, 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 2014 and 2015 Chan was heavily criticised because of the slow response of the WHO to the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa.[27][28]

In 2014, she 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.[29]

Personal life

Margaret Chan is married to husband David Chan,[2] who is an ophthalmologist.[30]


  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 "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. ^ Helen Branswell (8 November 2006). "University of Western Ontario delighted med school grad named WHO chief". Canadian Press. 
  6. ^ Margaret Chan Professional Experience
  7. ^ "World Health Assembly elects Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as new WHO Director-General". Geneva: World Health Organization. 23 May 2017. Retrieved 25 May 2017. 
  8. ^ "The Flu Fighters". Asia Week. 30 January 1998. 
  9. ^ "Zero bird flu=zero live chicken? Dissecting central slaughtering (in Chinese)". Sing Tao Daily. 6 September 2006. 
  10. ^ "Chan wins. Lead Health department for 10 years, slaughter chicken to stop bird flu (in Chinese)". Ta Kung Pao. 9 November 2006. 
  11. ^ a b Matthew Lee (29 July 2005). "Swine virus fears mount". The Standard. 
  12. ^ "Margaret Chan "at the right time" (in Chinese)". Asia Times Online. 9 November 2006. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ "Bird flu expert to lead WHO". BBC. 6 November 2006. 
  15. ^ Matthew Lee (10 July 2004). "Legco censures Chan over SARS". The Standard. Archived from the original on 3 May 2009. Retrieved 24 July 2008. 
  16. ^ "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. 
  17. ^ Ma, Ngok (2004). "SARS and the Limits of the Hong Kong SAR Administrative State". Asian Perspective. 28 (1): 107. 
  18. ^ Miriam Shuchman (15 February 2007). "Improving global health—Margaret Chan at the WHO". N Engl J Med. 
  19. ^ Dr Margaret Chan: Biography, WHO website
  20. ^ "Chan sets out goals for WHO". The Standard. 10 November 2006. 
  21. ^ Dr Margaret Chan nominated for a second term to be WHO Director-General, WHO web site
  22. ^ a b c Dr Margaret Chan appointed to a second term as Director-General, WHO News Release, 23 May 2012
  23. ^ "WHO Chief's Stand on Generic Drugs Slammed". IPS. 2 February 2007. 
  24. ^ "UN health chief praises N. Korean health system as 'envy'". AFP. 30 April 2010. Retrieved 22 June 2012. 
  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. ^ Somini Sengupta (6 January 2015), "Effort on Ebola Hurt W.H.O. Chief", New York Times, retrieved 20 January 2016 
  28. ^ Daniel R. Lucey, Lawrence O. Gostin, "The Emerging Zika Pandemic: Enhancing Preparedness", JAMA, doi:10.1001/jama.2016.0904 
  29. ^ "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  30. ^ Mary Ann Benitez (8 August 2006). "Husband goes too, says Margaret Chan". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 18 May 2017. 

Further reading

External links

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