SHE is the woman at the centre of shocking allegations over an exaggerated health scare.
But few know that Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), got a booster shot for her career in Singapore.
Dr Chan did her postgraduate training in public health at the National University of Singapore in 1985.
Her credentials, posted on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China’s website, said that she graduated with a Master of Science degree from NUS.
Earlier, Dr Chan did her Bachelor’s (BA) and medical degrees (MD) at the University of Western Ontario in Canada in 1973 and 1977.
Dr Chan, 63, is now at the centre of a storm of criticism and controversy over how the H1N1 flu pandemic was handled.
The issue began about a year ago. Dr Chan announced to the world then that it was the start of the H1N1 flu pandemic.
Though the flu bug spread far and wide, it turned out to be less serious than previously feared.
Earlier this month, even as the flu outbreak petered out, Dr Chan insisted it remained critical for countries to stay alert.
Despite governments around the world scaling back on alert levels, WHO continued to recommend that the world be on high alert.
This insistence on alert levels has led to claims that it is being influenced by some of its advisors’ links to pharmaceutical companies.
Said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl in an e-mail reply to The New Paper: “We’re still in phase 6 (the highest level of the pandemic).”
Singapore is now at the green alert level, equivalent to WHO’s lowest alert level.
Dr Chan recently said that pandemic flu activity is expected to continue, and the committee would meet again next month. She has said little else.
The WHO also declined to answer questions from The New Paper.
Dr Chan, however, has strongly rejected suggestions that her decisions about the pandemic were influenced by pharmaceutical companies.
In a statement made earlier this month and released on the WHO website, she said: “At no time, not for one second, did commercial interests enter my decision-making.”
She also dismissed claims that the WHO had stirred unnecessary public fear over the pandemic.
The agency’s handling of the outbreak is now being reviewed by a 29-member expert panel that will report on its findings next year.
The is not the first time that Dr Chan – who in 1994 became the first woman to head Hong Kong’s Department of Health – has been the target of critics.
In 1997, she was criticised for her handling of the H5N1 (bird flu) outbreak in Hong Kong.
After the first victim died of H5N1, she had first tried to reassure Hong Kong residents by telling the media: “I ate chicken last night” or “I eat chicken every day, don’t panic, everyone”.
When more H5N1 cases appeared, she was criticised for misleading the public by downplaying the severity of the outbreak.
According to the Atlanta Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 people were hospitalised and six of them died in Hong Kong during that outbreak.
Despite political opposition, Dr Chan ordered the slaughter of 1.5 million chickens, which helped to bring the outbreak under control.
For that, she received kudos.
Her performance during the Sars outbreak in 2003 also attracted criticism. The outbreak killed 299 people in Hong Kong.
She was criticised by the Hong Kong Legislative Council for believing in misleading information shared by the mainland authority and not acting swiftly.
But the Sars expert committee established by the Hong Kong Government said that Dr Chan was not at fault.
These criticisms did not hurt her chances at the WHO.
In 2003, Dr Chan, who is married with one son, joined the agency as director of the Department for Protection of the Human Environment.
She rose up the organisation’s ranks until her appointment as director-general in 2006.
Her term will run through June 2012.