Lee Jong-wook

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Lee Jong-wook
6th Director-General of World Health Organization
In office
Preceded by Gro Harlem Brundtland
Succeeded by Anders Nordström
Personal details
Born (1945-04-12)12 April 1945
Seoul, Korea
Died May 22, 2006(2006-05-22) (aged 61) (stroke)
Geneva, Switzerland
Resting place Daejeon National Cemetery, Daejeon, Daejeon Metropolitan City, South Korea
Nationality South Korean
Korean name
Hangul 이종욱
Hanja 李鍾郁
Revised Romanization I Jong-uk
McCune–Reischauer Yi Chong-uk

Lee Jong-wook (12 April 1945 – 22 May 2006) was the director-general of the World Health Organization for three years. He joined the WHO in 1983, working on a variety of projects including the Global Programme for Vaccines and Immunizations and Stop Tuberculosis. He began his term as director-general in 2003. He was the first Korean to lead an international agency. In 2004, he was one of the 100 people who shapes our lives and most powerful people in the world by Time Magazine.[1]

Early life

Born on 12 April 1945 in Seoul, Korea, Lee obtained a medical degree at Seoul National University, then obtained an MA at the University of Hawaii in public health. He is the third son in a family of six children; he has three brothers and two sisters. Two brothers are professors.

Lee took care of leprosy patients in Anyang, South Korea when he was studying medicine. There were few medical facilities set up at the time and he worked in a volunteer capacity. He met and later married Kaburaki Reiko, a Japanese woman who visited Korea in order to help out there.[2]

WHO career

He worked at the World Health Organisation (WHO), at country, regional and headquarter levels for 23 years.[3] His work in WHO started in 1983 when he worked with leprosy in Fiji. He started his work as an advisor on leprosy, and later also treated tuberculosis and promoted the vaccination of children against preventable diseases.[4]

In 1994, Lee moved to Geneva to work at WHO headquarters as chief in prevention and vaccines. In 1995, he was nicknamed Vaccine Czar according to Scientific American.[5] Lee became official candidate for 6th director-generals of WHO.

  • 1983-2006 : Staff of WHO
  • 1994-98 : Director in Global Programme for Vaccines and Immunization, and Executive Secretary, Children's Vaccine Initiative
  • 1998-99 : Senior Policy Adviser to 5th General, Gro Harlem Brundtland
  • 1999-2000 : Special Representative of the Director-General
  • 2003-2006 : Director-General of WHO[6]

He had said that global efforts to control the HIV/AIDS pandemic would be the right course that would give meaning to his tenure as director-general of the agency.[7]

The 3 by 5 policy, which was the basic idea of Lee, was largely criticized by many concerned people. International AIDS Society president Joep Lange, had a comment that the project was “totally unrealistic”. Médecins sans Frontières, also expressed similar reservations toward Lee's plan.[8]

He visited 60 countries in the three years of his Generalship including Darfur, Sudan, sites of the Indian Ocean tsunami, Madagascar, Mauritius.[9] He was famed as a man of action during this time. His adventurous spirit led him to "experience more, see more, and do more," said his son Tadahiro.[10]


He died on 22 May 2006, while in office, in Geneva, Switzerland, following surgery for a blood clot in the brain (a subdural hematoma).[11] He died after preparing for UN general meetings. His symptom was caused by inner injury of brain. Dr. Lee fell ill at a luncheon on Saturday in Geneva.[12] He died in intensive care unit of Geneva's University Hospital after receiving emergency surgery for a blood clot on his brain.[13]

Secretary General of United Nations at that time, Kofi Annan mentioned

President George W. Bush of United States said

He was posthumously awarded the Hibiscus Cordon (Grand Cross) of the Order of Civil Merit by the South Korean government. He was survived by Reiko Kaburaki Lee; the couple has one son, Tadahiro Lee.[16] Reiko continues to volunteer in Peru helping poor women and children.[17]

Memorial award

The South Korean government officially announced the establishment of the a Memorial Prize in Lee's memory. After his death, You Si min, the Minister of Health and Welfare of the Republic of Korea, officially revealed the plans concerning the new awards and urged other nations and persons concerned to participate at a meeting of WHO in 2007.[18] Mr.Lee Sung-joo, who is permanent representative of the Republic of Korea, spoke of the award in Dr. Lee's memory to motivate and inspire young leaders aspiring to be the next Dr. Lee Jong-wook.[19]

Starting in 2009, the awards would be given for mainly the fields "young leadership" and "contributor of health management" (especially for epidemics) at the annual assembly of WHO, which takes place in May each year.[20]

See also


  1. TIME Magazine: TIME 100: Jong-Wook Lee
  2. Emperor of Vaccines Busan Ilbo (KOR) 2006-05-24 http://www.busanilbo.com/news2000/html/2006/0524/040020060524.103011
  3. In Memoriam Lee Jong-wook 2006-05-24 http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/News/2003/memoriam_jong-wook.html
  4. Obituary: Dr Lee Jong-wook 2006-05-22 BBC http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/5005540.stm
  5. 옳다고 생각하면 행동하라 p. 200 written by Kwon Joon Wook
  6. Dr Lee Jong-Wook WHO director-general who led global campaigns against Sars, Aids, malaria and bird flu 2006-05-24 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/dr-lee-jongwook-479449.html
  7. WHO chief dies after blood clot BBC 2006-05-22 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/5003930.stm
  8. TimesOnline 2006-05-23 Lee Jong Wook WHO head who led the fight against Aids and bird flu http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article723768.ece
  9. The Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/dr-lee-jongwook-479449.html 2006-05-24
  10. Official page of WHO ihttp://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/notes/2006/np12/en/index.html
  11. NYT W.H.O. Chief Undergoes Emergency Brain Surgery 2006-05-22 http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/22/world/asia/22health.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
  12. NYT W.H.O. Chief Undergoes Emergency Brain Surgery 2006-05-22 http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/22/world/asia/22health.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
  13. WHO chief Lee Jong-Wook dies suddenly Turkishpress.com 2006-05-22 (AFP) http://www.turkishpress.com/news.asp?id=124783
  14. Dr. Lee Jong Wook – WHO chief, enabled AIDS care for the poor SFGate of San Francisco http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/05/23/BAGRJJ0GH11.DTL&type=health
  15. Official page of White House http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2006/05/20060522-2.html
  16. Lee Jong-Wook
  17. Mr.Lee's dowager, Reiko 故 이종욱 전 WHO총장 미망인 레이코 여사 2006-11-13 http://news.mk.co.kr/newsRead.php?no=483129&year=2006
  18. You si min, going to organize awards memorizing Dr. Lee 유시민 복지 "고 이종욱 총장 기념상 만들겠다" 2007-05-16 http://mbn.mk.co.kr/news/newsRead.php?vodCode=211296&category=mbn00008
  19. Tribute to Dr Lee Jong-wook http://www.who.int/mediacentre/events/2007/wha60/tribute_lee/en/index.html
  20. Arirang TV New Award to Honor Late WHO Chief Lee Jongwook 2007-05-14 http://www.arirangtv.com/News/News_View.asp?code=Ne6&nseq=71148

External links

Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Gro Harlem Brundtland
Director-General of the World Health Organization
Succeeded by
Anders Nordström Acting