May 22, 2006 (CIDRAP news) – Dr. Lee Jong-wook, 61, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) died this morning following emergency surgery for subdural hematoma (a blood clot on his brain) May 20. He never regained consciousness, according to a Reuters story today.
Lee, appointed director-general in 2003, had been spearheading the WHO's efforts against avian flu, HIV, and other significant infectious diseases.
He stressed repeatedly, according to the WHO Web site, that all heads of state should ensure that their countries develop a national pandemic preparedness plan, and he met personally with US President George W. Bush, French President Jacques Chirac, and China's President Hu Jintao.
"The world has lost a great man today," the WHO quotes UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "Lee Jong-wook was a man of conviction and passion. He was a strong voice for the right of every man, woman, and child to health prevention and care, and advocated on behalf of the very poorest people.
"He will be very gravely missed, but history will mark Lee Jong-wook's many contributions to public health."
Lee, a native of the Republic of Korea who worked at the WHO for 23 years, led a healthy lifestyle, according to the WHO, which for some only heightened the shock of his sudden death. He enjoyed skiing, mountain biking, and walking.
"There was no warning, no nothing. It was a complete shock," said Iain Simpson, a WHO spokesperson, according to Reuters.
Lee is survived by his wife and son, two brothers, a sister, and their families, according to the WHO home page. Dr. Anders Norstrom of Sweden will serve as acting director-general until a replacement is named.
WHO Web site tribute http://www.who.int/dg/lee/tribute/en/