SOUTH Korean Jong Wook Lee was elected on Tuesday to replace Norway's Gro-Harlem Brundtland at the helm of the World Health Organisation (WHO), pledging to put Africa at the top of the UN health agency's agenda.
He has also pledged to decentralise the Geneva-based WHO and turn it into a results-based operation.
With 19 years experience at the organisation, most recently as head of the 'Stop TB' (tuberculosis) programme, Lee told reporters that it was a great honour and very humbling to be chosen.
The 57-year-old South Korean, who takes over on July 21, was selected after three rounds of voting at a closed-door meeting of the WHO's 32-member executive board on Tuesday morning.
He secured 17 votes against 15 votes for his main rival, the Belgian head of the UN's programme against HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Peter Piot, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters.
Clearly Africa should be the priority, and Africa is the priority, especially for HIV/AIDS, Lee told reporters, adding that WHO was committed to achieving the eight development goals adopted by the UN Millennium Summit in 2000 aimed at eradicating hunger, poverty and disease.
Africa is close to my heart and I will spend much time and energy to solve the African problems, he said.
Additionally, he said he believed in a WHO that is more decentralised and devoting more of its resources to work in the countries and also in the field.
Also I believe in a WHO that is efficient ... that is fully accountable for the money it has spent, and transparent in the way spending decisions are reached, he told a press conference.
Since December 2000, Lee has been WHO's director of the 'Stop TB' programme, a coalition of more than 250 international bodies. He has also led the WHO's global fight against vaccine preventable diseases for children, among a number of other technical, managerial and policy posts during his 19 years at the Geneva-based WHO.
The WHO leads the international fight in tackling disease, including widespread killers such as malaria and tuberculosis, which together claim three million lives every year.
The agency is also responsible for setting global standards for medicines, healthcare and food safety.
Lee was chosen from a shortlist of five candidates including Piot, as well as Mozambique's prime minister and former health minister, Pascoal Manuel Mocumbi, Ismail Sallam, a former Egyptian health minister, and Mexican Health Minister Julio
Congratulating Lee, Piot said in a written statement that he wished him a strong mandate which builds on the leadership of Dr Brundtland and looked forward to a continuing fruitful collaboration with WHO as a UNAIDS co-sponsor.
US Ambassador to the UN here, Kevin Moley, also congratulated Lee, describing him as eminently qualified for this position.
The 192 member states will now have to approve the choice of director-general at the May 19-28 World Health Assembly, though it has so far never rejected the executive board's nomination, Chaib said.
Lee will be the WHO's sixth director general. Previous incumbents since the UN health agency was set up in 1948 have come from Canada, Brazil, Denmark and Japan.
Brundtland, a former Norwegian prime minister, announced last August that she would not stand for a second term when her five-year mandate expired in July 2003.
The WHO's executive board had whittled the candidates down to five from seven at a meeting last Tuesday.(Source: SAPA-AFP, 28 January 2003)