Conference: Farewell to Margaret Chan – 10 years of leadership on Global Health

NEWS RELEASE– On the 27th of June 2017, the CIPADH attended a conference organized by the Graduate Institute in Geneva to honor Margaret Chan’s work as the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). A conference entitled “10 years of leadership on Global Health” with speakers who had been working closely with Margaret Chan and were invited to talk about the impact of her work.



Ilona Kickbusch, Director of the Global Health Center of The graduate Institute introduced the meeting by underlining the necessity of the health topic in the United Nations system. She then gave the floor to Mickael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva who reminded the audience how capital health is and how Margaret Chan changed the way of dealing with global health issue in her ten years as the head of the WHO. In fact, global health improved on a global scale during Dr. Chan mandate. Child deaths have diminished and with the work of Dr. Chan, the world is today close to eradicate polio. Moreover, Mickael Møller asserted that “The big crises that occurred during Dr. Chan’s mandate such as H1N1, Ebola and Zika, were handled with the possibilities and means available at the time”. Important lessons were learned from these crises. According to M. Møller, Margaret Chan’s leadership led the field of global health in a better place, which highlights the importance of leadership in such domain.

Then, Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights gave a moving speech about Margaret Chan. She celebrated the leadership of a great woman with both her “strengths” and “stubbornness”. For her, Margaret Chan sets today a powerful example not only as a woman but also as a leader. She underlined the work Dr. Chan accomplished in recognizing that evidence and facts constitute the “bedrocks” of any public policy as they enable genuine accountability.

Shorts statements were then made by people who worked closely with Margaret Chan on specific questions. First, Elhadj As Ay, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies qualified Dr. Chan as a “devoted leader”, a “person with energy and passion” but a humble woman considering only herself as an international civil. Indeed, she was brave as she went on the field during the Ebola crisis when everyone was leaving the affected countries. Moreover she focused on issues neglected by others such as tropical diseases. For her it was all “about people” which makes her an admirable leader with “honest leadership”. Yvette Stevens, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Sierra Leone to the UN Office and Other international Organizations in Geneva went on, highlighting the fact that Margaret is a great example in showing that women can succeed on the international scene. In fact, she was skillful at convincing and maintaining dialogue with concerned stakeholders and states. Ambassador Yvette Stevens claimed that “Even when the WHO failed to respond in times of crisis such as Ebola, it is not Margaret’s leadership that should be blamed but the state.” In the World Health Organization states are sovereign and the Organization has no power in itself. Tania Dussey-Cavassini, Vice-Director General in charge of International Affairs and Ambassador for Global Health in the Federal Office of Public Health (Switzerland) expressed her “deepest gratitude for all [Dr. Chan] work” and the woman she is. Emphasizing the breakthroughs she realized in Global Health policy as she put “the principles and approaches of primary health care back on track” and worked on people centered care. She used a metaphor of the tunnels being built in Switzerland to describe M. Chan work and her leadership, concluding her address with this sentence to Dr. Margaret Chan : “often you came in with a soft spoken voice but firm determination of a convince drill”.

Margaret Chan with the humor and the strength defining her, took then the stand for some reflections. Her decade as Director-general of the WHO was “a very eventful decade”. In this troubled time she believed in “transparency, and accountability and measurement”. She highlighted the progress made during this decade by the WHO in “key areas”. Namely, tropical diseases are no longer left behind, polio is close to being eradicated even if she had promise to eradicate it before the end of its mandate and apologized for this. There was great progress in dealing with HIV, Malaria and maternal and child health: in 10 years the WHO “reduces death of children in terms of millions”. Thanks to the lessons learned from the Ebola crisis, the Zika virus was dealt with in a different way. She ensure a “WHO reform” for better accountability. In a humble tone, she asserted that great progress has been made but some changes are still needed. She explained the crucial role of health as it inevitably leads to greater human rights: “When you get right to health you get the other rights», yet, she asserted that “much more work needs to be done and that goes to the heart of Human Right». She received a standing ovation by the audience who recognized her leadership.

This conference aptly underlined the key role played by leadership skills in International Organizations and here in the WHO. Leadership should be studied as it has an undeniable impact on the progress and the work of an international organization and is thus crucial in determining the latter’s success or failure.


EF - Research Assistant at CIPADH