Health ministers from more than one hundred ninety countries met this week in Geneva to discuss issues like bird flu and other threats. But the yearly meeting of the World Health Assembly opened with tragic news. Lee Jong-wook, head of the World Health Organization, had died hours before he was supposed to give a speech at the meeting.
Doctor Lee suffered a stroke last weekend. He died Monday following an operation to remove a blood clot from his brain. Doctor Lee, a South Korean, was sixty-one years old.
The W.H.O. named Assistant Director-General Anders Nordstrom as acting leader. Officials say it could take as a long as a year for the organization to choose a new director-general.
On Wednesday, more than one thousand people attended funeral services in Geneva for Lee Jong-wook. Speakers there and at the fifty-ninth World Health Assembly praised his efforts to improve health conditions around the world.
Doctor Lee had worked for twenty-three years for the W.H.O., the United Nations health agency. He played a major part in campaigns against tuberculosis, leprosy, malaria and polio. He became director-general in two thousand three.
One of his major goals was to get treatment to many more people with H.I.V. and AIDS in developing countries. He worked to make the W.H.O. more effective in dealing with infectious diseases.
The agency says his work has made the world better prepared for the possible spread of avian flu. One example is an agreement last year among W.H.O. members to develop a fast reporting system for suspected cases.
More than two hundred cases have been confirmed in ten countries since two thousand three. These have resulted in more than one hundred twenty deaths.
Most of the cases are believed to have been caused directly by contact with infected birds or their waste.
But as world health ministers were meeting in Geneva, medical teams were investigating an unusual situation in northern Indonesia. At least six members of a family died from the h-five-n-one virus in the past month.
The W.H.O. sent experts to North Sumatra to investigate. The agency said all the cases can be directly linked to close and extended periods of contact with a patient.
Julie Gerberding heads the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She said in Geneva that experts believed the disease spread among family members caring for others who were sick.
Early reports suggested that three of the people had spent a night in a small room with the woman who had the first case in the family.
Officials say tests on the victims found no evidence that the virus had changed in ways that would let it spread easily from person-to-person.
IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. Read and listen to our reports at voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Steve Ember.