In Geneva today, the World Health Assembly — that is, the annual meeting of the 194 governments whose collective commitment support the World Health Organization — opened as traditional, with a speech by the WHO’s director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan. It is a very interesting time, not just for the WHA to be meeting, but for Dr. Chan to be addressing them. That’s because, 10 years ago when SARS exploded into the world from China, she was the director of health for Hong Kong, the city that was hit first and hardest. Ten years later, with H7N9 flu emerging from China, and a viral relative of SARS — the novel coronavirus now being dubbed MERS — bubbling in the Middle East, the questions and lessons of SARS are bizarrely resonant. That has been true for the past several weeks, but is even more so today, with one more case of MERS announced, in one more country: Tunisia, this time.
Here are the opening paragraphs from Chan’s speech (full text online here). To me it’s quite interesting how much she praises China for its transparency in dealing with H7N9 flu — while not extending the same praise to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where MERS is concentrated. In fact, she doesn’t even mention Saudi Arabia by name; whether that is meant to give offense, or to avoid it, other public-health tea-leaf readers can say better than me. Though her closing comment — “the current situation demands collaboration and cooperation from the entire world” — sounds pretty pointed to me.