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JW LeeThe untimely death of Dr. Lee Jong-wook, Director General of the World Health Organization, after emergency brain surgery has surely left the delegates to the just-opened World Health Assembly reeling. We respectfully acknowledge the many contributions of Dr. Lee, an early campaigner against TB in the developing world, and note his passing with sorrow. The world will miss the good humor and strong will that he brought to the job.

Effective leadership of the World Health Organization has never been so important. Avian influenza is at the top of the global health agenda, and a multitude of other health challenges – from HIV/AIDS prevention to the introduction of a cancer vaccine in the developing world – are desperate for adequate, long-term funding, technical consensus about what to do and how, and political leadership at all levels.

Effective leadership of the agency also has never been so difficult. The core public health capabilities of WHO are often hamstrung by political interests, reflecting the close link among health, economic, and geo-strategic forces. It is past time to make sure that WHO leadership has the independence required to follow the science toward the most effective public health policies and practices.

Update: The WHO has released a tribute to Dr. Lee

Update: CGD has posted a Q&A on future WHO leadership

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.