WHO chief faces fight on reforms

Manila - Tough-talking World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun may be facing the toughest battle of her leadership as she launches a bid for unprecedented funding and management reform at the UN body.

The WHO director-general has begun governance reforms in the Geneva headquarters and has been traveling the world trying to convince the group’s regional and country offices they should change the way they do business amid global financial austerity.

On the second day of the WHO regional meeting in Manila, Chan emphasized to the 194 member states the need for reform.

“We have to rethink given this financial austerity,”she said yesterday.

The WHO budget would have to be cut by 30 percent, and the cost-savings would include even a cutback on money spent on telephone calls.

She said the WHO should not hastily plan programs before funding has been received, “otherwise we will go bankrupt.”

In an interview with The Standard, Chan emphasized her determination to fight the tobacco companies.

She said big companies will go as far as character assassination to derail global efforts to combat smoking.

“Dr Judith Mackay [Hong Kong’s pre-eminent anti-tobacco activist] was named and [the tobacco lobbyists] gave her a hard time,saying this and that.”

Chan said it is unethical for scientists to be paid by the tobacco industry to do research to counter studies about the harmful effects of tobacco.

The former Hong Kong director of health, has announced she will seek re-election for a second five-year term, when her first term ends next year.

Chan, 64, who ran as a representative of China for the leadership of the UN health body, said the mainland has one third of the world’s smokers, and that every time she visits China, she takes up the tobacco issue with the nation’s top leaders.

” I always talk to them. I talked to Premier Wen [Jiabao] before they organized the Beijing Olympics and I also talked to the leaders in Shanghai when they were organizing the World Expo,” she said.

Both were declared smoke-free.

Chan said her focus on noncommunicable disease in recent weeks does not mean communicable diseases will be relegated to second place.

By Mary Ann Benitez

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