Alumna Margaret Chan on Forbes' list of most powerful women

Monday, September 10, 2012

Forbes magazine has named Western alumna, Dr. Margaret Chan #37 on its list of 100 Women Who Rule the World. Dr. Chan, BSA'73, MD'77,DSc'99 honoris causa, is in her second term as Director-General of the World Health Organization.

The list is topped by German chancellor Angela Merkel. Tucked between Sony Pictures chairwoman Amy Pascal (No. 36) and entertainer Jennifer Lopez (No. 38) on the Forbes list, Dr. Chan was nominated for a second term as chief of the United Nation's WHO in January. She was the only candidate put forward to the WHO's executive board who made the official nomination at a meeting in Geneva.

She came to Canada in 1969 and completed a degree in Home Economics at Brescia University College in 1973 before applying for Western's medical school. She and her husband David both graduated in 1977. She then returned to Hong Kong and found a job as a medical officer of health - 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."