New WHO head a UH alumnus

[ Dr. Jong-Wook Lee arrives at WHO headquarters in Geneva in his new official car - a gasoline-electric hybrid Toyota Prius. ]The new head of the World Head Organization brings with him two decades of experience with the international agency, and a Master’s degree in public health from the University of Hawai`i. Dr. Jong Wook Lee, who formally took office today at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, was well on his way to becoming a doctor when, thinking he could do more good in the area of public health, he quit his medical training and enrolled at UH in the late ’70s.

According to a profile in today’s New York Times, Lee devoted some of his research to leprosy in Micronesia, ultimately helping to develop a faster laboratory test to detect the disease.

Today, Lee is spearheading an ambitious program focused on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, pledging to provide three million people in developing countries with antiretroviral drugs by the end of 2005. He also said he is committed to reducing WHO overhead and increasing tangible results in countries around the world.

“The world today needs leadership in the ongoing struggle for security and justice,” he said at the time. “Security from infections, and justice for those worst affected by diseases of poverty.”

Lee was nominated for the post in January, and was elected in May.

Born in Seoul, Lee earned his Master’s degree in epidemiology from UH in 1981. He also has a medical degree from Seoul National University. He has worked at the WHO for 19 years in technical, managerial and policy positions, notably leading the fight against tuberculosis and vaccine-preventable diseases of children — two of the greatest challenges to health and development.

He speaks English, Korean and Japanese and can read French and Chinese. He also has a son, who is studying electrical engineering at Cornell University.

During his five-year term, Lee said he plans to drive an electrical and gasoline powered Toyota Prius as his official car to highlight environmental health and protection issues.

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