Partners In Health mourns Dr. Lee Jong-wook, Director-General of WHO
Dr. Lee Jong-wook and Reiko Kaburaki Lee enjoy a lighter moment at the Mujeres Unidas project in Peru.
The global health community lost a visionary leader and Partners In Health lost a valued friend on May 22 with the death of Dr. Lee Jong-wook, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Since taking the helm of WHO in 2003, Dr. Lee had galvanized action to bring anti-retroviral treatment that had previously been available only in rich countries to millions of AIDS patients in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. Shortly after taking office, Dr. Lee launched the "3 by 5" campaign, with the goal of having 3 million people on treatment by the end of 2005. Although the campaign fell short of its target, the number of patients on treatment in developing countries quadrupled in just two years. In Africa, it increased eight-fold.
"Someone had to say, 'Let's do something with the tools we already have,'" recalled PIH co-founder Jim Kim, who worked closely with Dr. Lee on the "3 by 5" campaign as head of WHO's HIV/AIDS Department. "And he [Dr. Lee] did it." For more than one million people who started receiving treatment between 2003 and 2005, Dr. Lee's willingness to take action and take responsibility quite literally meant the difference between hope and despair, life and death.
Dr. Lee began his career with WHO directly out of medical school. After working with leprosy programs in Fiji, he took on ever increasing responsibility, leading WHO efforts to eradicate polio in Asia, immunize children worldwide and fight tuberculosis. It was as head of WHO's tuberculosis program that Dr. Lee came to be a friend and supporter of Partners In Health in its work with multidrug-resistant TB patients in Peru, Haiti and Russia.
Since 2001, Dr. Lee's wife, Reiko Kaburaki Lee, has devoted six months of every year to working with Mujeres Unidas - a crafts cooperative organized by PIH's partner organization, Socios En Salud. Mujeres Unidas, was founded in 2000 as a way for poor women in the TB-ridden shantytowns outside Lima, Peru, to contribute to their families' income. Over the past six years it has provided many women the opportunity both to earn money and to learn important managerial and technical skills that boost their self esteem as well as their ability to provide for their families. And for half of each of those years, Reiko Kaburaki Lee has worked alongside these women, stitching and weaving the fabric of scarves, hats and better livelihoods.
In lieu of flowers, Reiko Kaburaki Lee has asked people to honor her husband's memory by donating to Mujeres Unidas. Donations can be made online. To earmark your contribution in honor of Dr. Lee, select "Peru: gifts in memory of Dr. JW Lee" from the "Program" drop-down menu and check the box to indicate that "My donation is a tribute to someone special."
More details on Dr. Lee's life, work and legacy are included in the obituary in the Boston Globe.