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SARS: Story about human ingenuity and determination

By Li Ye (People's Daily Online)

08:59, April 28, 2013

People's Daily Online (PD Online) interviewed with Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun (Chen), Director-General of the World Health Organization, rethinking the legacy of the battle against SARS one decade ago.

PD Online: You impressed the Chinese mainland during the 2003 SARS as an “Iron Lady” for the resolute actions you took in response to SARS. Do you see yourself as an Iron Lady? Among salutations such as Iron Lady, Director General, Doctor Chan, Mrs Chan … which would you prefer?

Chan: I am flattered that people call me "Iron Lady", in the sense that it means someone who is willing to commit to difficult decisions in difficult situations. But I am first a public health doctor. Actually I feel like a servant. I have 194 member states and I work with them very closely for the health of the world's people.

PD Online: Years ago you went all the way to Canada and studied medicine instead of art. You made this decision for love. Now you dedicate yourself so much to work that you don’t have enough time to be with your family. What are the reasons behind such a change?

Chan: Yes, about 30 years ago, I switched careers from being a teacher to become a doctor to 'follow my heart', as my husband was studying medicine in Canada. Now I am an "international civil servant". I feel it is my duty to serve the world's people for a better and healthier life. I appreciate my husband and my family who give me their full support.

PD Online: One decade has passed since SARS. What impressed you most at that time? What impacts did it have on you? Some people say that it was SARS that made you WHO DG. What do you think about it?

Chan: The mode and speed of the deadly spread of SARS 10 years ago did catch us out, but we should remember it today for how the world rose to the challenge to contain it.

SARS was a very important event. Because of the impetus coming from the SARS outbreak in 2003, WHO member states reviewed, renewed and also updated the IHR. All these requirements actually paved the way for countries to build their capacity and also understand the need for transparency.

And we have noticed that the time from event diagnosis to reporting to WHO has decreased tremendously. The country capacity is much better than pre-SARS. Because of SARS, I think the world is in a much better position to detect and respond to events.

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