[EDITORIALS]WHO Director General LeeThe election of Dr. Lee Jong-wook as director general of the World Health Organization is welcome news of a magnitude not seen here for some time. This is the first time that a Korean was chosen to lead a key specialized body under the United Nations, and it also represents a victory for our diplomacy. We send the country’s congratulations to Dr. Lee.
The field for the campaign to lead the WHO was crowded, with Mozambique’s Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi, Mexican Health Minister Julio Frenk Mora, Egyptian Health Minister Ismail Salam and the Belgian head of the United Nations AIDS program, Peter Piot, in the running. Dr. Lee’s 20 years of activity in the WHO is credited for his election, but Seoul’s full support no doubt helped his candidacy.
The election also means a touching coming-of-age for Korea, which had been the recipient of countless assistance programs by the WHO ― epidemic control and polio elimination ― after its accession in 1949 and then after the country went through a devastating war and a prolonged period of poverty.
This is a proud moment for Korea and for Dr. Lee.
Dr. Lee, who currently heads the WHO’s tuberculosis program, is a recognized expert on TB vaccine. After his medical training, he went to work for the WHO in 1983, first heading the organization’s program fighting leprosy in the South Pacific. His work in the effort to eliminate the disease and polio has been widely recognized.
There are still countless numbers of people suffering from illnesses in the world. There is a lot for the WHO to do, even with its $1.1-billion annual budget, its 191 member countries and headquarters staff of 3,500 people. Korea’s role in the organization has shifted from a recipient to a donor over the years, with greater responsibility for the health and medical welfare of other members.
But our responsibility in the international community must not stop here; our improved status in the world must be matched by greater contributions and more activities through international organizations.