The Chan flu crisis

Because of the nature of the flu crisis, Dr. Chan becomes the first truly global leader with real power. Hers is a test case of whether such global leadership is possible.

The H1N1 crisis is turning into the crucible of leadership for Dr. Margaret Chan.

Dr. Chan, Hong Kong Chinese by birth, has been director-general of the World Health Organization since 2006. She made her reputation combatting the 1997 avian flu outbreak and the 2003 SARS outbreak.

She's the right woman in the right place at the right time.

She closed the World Health Assembly in Geneva today with a typically understated speech, calling the meeting "an exceptionally intense session." She has a way of making diplomatic language sound like straight talk.

She then took on the H1N1 threat directly. She called it "a very contagious virus" and "a subtle, sneaky virus." She then refused to call a pandemic, but indicated she might later if the science calls for it.

Pure numbers indicate panic is rising worldwide. Despite intense efforts there is not yet a reliable vaccine. The virus spreads to new countries seemingly every day. There are not enough anti-virals in poor countries to contain a true pandemic.

Because of the nature of the flu crisis, Dr. Chan becomes the first truly global leader with real power. Hers is a test case of whether such global leadership is possible.

In that the signs are hopeful. Dr. Chan's record in Hong Kong was to calm public panic and then take decisive action, slaughtering 1.5 million chickens against political opposition, and withstanding withering criticism in the case of SARS, on which she was cleared by an expert committee.

In the case of H1N1 she seems to be quieting the panic, listening to the science, and keeping her priorities in the right place, fighting the virus where it might do the most damage, namely the developing world, where it might then mutate to kill millions more.

It is ironic that our first global health officer is a Chinese. But so far I can't think of anyone, anywhere, who could be doing a better job. If that makes me a Chan fan so be it.