Forbes has ranked Margaret Chan, BA’73, MD’77, DSc’99, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, as the world’s 37th most powerful woman on the magazine’s 100 Women Who Rule the World list. The list is topped by German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Tucked between Sony Pictures chairwoman Amy Pascal (No. 36) and entertainer Jennifer Lopez (No. 38) on the Forbes list, Chan was nominated for a second term as chief of the United Nation’s WHO in January. She was the only candidate put forward to the WHO’s executive board who made the official nomination at a meeting in Geneva.
Originally a teacher, Chan received her undergraduate degree from Brescia University College before she trained as a doctor at Western, returning to Hong Kong and heading the health department – just in time to have to deal with an outbreak of avian influenza. After initially trying to reassure people chicken was safe to eat, she ordered a cull of all 1.5 million ducks and chicken in the country – and her decision was seen as crucial in stopping the virus.
She was also at the helm when SARS hit, and while she was criticized for what was seen as a slow response, the then director general of the WHO was so impressed that he headhunted her saying, “You are the only person who has managed crises. I have many armchair experts. I need generals.”
As well as battling international viruses, she is also trying to champion improvements in maternal care, HIV and AIDS care, malaria, and all of our most pressing diseases. When she was made director in 2006 she was clear about her priorities:
“What matters most to me is people. And two specific groups of people in particular. I want us to be judged by the impact we have on the health of the people of Africa, and the health of women.”