Chief of World Health Organization dies

Monday, May 22, 2006

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Doctor Lee Jong-wook, 61, has died after doctors performed brain surgery on him to relieve a blood clot.

"I am sorry to tell you that Dr Lee Jong-wook, director-general of the WHO, died this morning. [This is a] very sad bit of news" and Lee "was an exceptional person and an exceptional director-general. Under his leadership, the WHO has been strengthened and has been able to give an effective response to world (health) problems," said Elena Salgado, Spain's Health Minister in a statement during the organization's 192-nation annual assembly held in Geneva. The panel observed two minutes of silence to honor Lee.

Lee was rushed to Cantonal Hospital in Geneva when he felt sick on Saturday. He became sick while he was at an official meeting. Doctors then determined that he had a blood clot in his brain and operated on Lee immediately.

"He had been in hospital since Saturday afternoon, where he underwent surgery to remove a blood clot on his brain (a subdural hematoma). He remained in intensive care. At 07:43 this morning, he was declared dead," said a statement by the WHO on its website.

"All of the staff of the World Health Organization extend their most sincere condolences to Dr Lee's family. The sudden loss of our leader, colleague and friend, is devastating," continued the statement.

"The world has lost a great man today. 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," said Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary General.

Lee became head of the WHO in 2003 and leaves behind his son, wife and two brothers.