Alumna Chan named among global power elite

By Jason Winders
November 06, 2013

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Forbes has ranked Margaret Chan, BA’73, MD’77, DSc’99, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, as the world’s 59th most powerful person on the magazine’s World’s Most Powerful People list. The list is topped by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Chan was ranked 58th last year.

Situated between Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Rosneft Chairman Igor Sechin on this year’s list, Chan was nominated for a second term as chief of the United Nation’s WHO in January 2012. She was the only candidate put forward to the WHO’s executive board.

The magazine wrote:

“Now in her second term as leader of the World Health Organization, Chan is the most powerful person in global public health and the only person with the authority to call a worldwide pandemic. Her advice on drugs and treatments direct countries battling major diseases and viruses like malaria and HIV/AIDS; her recommendations often dictate drug industry profits. WHO 2013 Statistics report showed declining infant mortality rates in the world’s poorest countries, increased life expectancies worldwide and a pronouncement that 27 nations have already met the U.N.’s 2015 Millennial Development Goals.”

The Most Powerful People in the World list is an annual snapshot of the heads of state, CEOs and financiers, philanthropists and NGO chiefs, billionaires and entrepreneurs who “truly rule the world.” It represents the collective wisdom of Forbes editors, who consider hundreds of nominees before ranking the planet’s top 72 power-brokers – one for every 100 million people on Earth.

This year’s list features 27 CEOs, 17 heads of state and 12 entrepreneurs. There are only nine women on the list, representing 12 per cent of the world’s most powerful — in stark contrast to being 50 per cent of the world’s population.

Both 2011 and 2012 featured six women leaders, and the inaugural list from 2009 included only three. Recently elected South Korean President Park Geun-hye (No. 52) joins the other female heads of state Germany’s Angela Merkel (No. 5), Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff (No. 20) and India’s Sonia Gandhi (No. 21). Two of the world’s most important NGO’s are run by women: Christine Lagarde (No. 35) leads the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Chan steers the WHO.

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.”

In June, Chan was ranked as the world’s 33rd most powerful woman on the magazine’s World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list.


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