WHO's Director-General To Give ICAAC Lecture

The ICAAC Program Committee elected to invite Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization, July 1998-July 2003, to be the 2003 ICAAC Lecturer. The committee was pleased to know of her acceptance, especially considering that since mid-March, Brundtland has been speaking almost daily to reporters and the world's health officials about a previously unheard of disease, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), that is spreading around the globe at alarming rates.

              As the ICAAC Lecturer, Brundtland will speak about SARS as one of the many infectious disease challenges facing the world at the dawn of the 21st century. She will reflect on historical and recent trends in the global burden of disease and illustrate the double burden of disease increasingly facing developing countries. She will also discuss emerging trends in the infectious diseases area that affect the global threat pattern and economic considerations, including experiences from Ebola outbreaks, as well as West Nile virus and, of course, SARS. Brundtland will discuss why capacity building in developing countries and increased international collaboration is essential to protect public health, both in developed and developing nations, and can be achieved through a revised set of international health regulations. 

             Brundtland was born in Oslo, Norway, on 20 April 1939. When she was 10 years old, her family moved to the United States, where her father had been awarded a Rockefeller scholarship; thus was the beginning of what would become an international career. 

             Brundtland won a scholarship to the Harvard School of Public Health. It is there that her vision of health extending beyond the confines of the medical world into environment issues and human development began to take shape. After receiving her master's degree in public health, she returned to Oslo and the Ministry of Health in 1965, where she spent the next nine years. At the Ministry she worked on children's health issues, including breastfeeding, cancer prevention, and infectious diseases. She worked in the children's department of the National Hospital and Oslo City Hospital and became Director of Health Services for Oslo's schoolchildren. 

             Her energy, enthusiasm, and commitment brought an unexpected change of career. In 1974, Brundtland was offered the job of Minister of the Environment. At first, believing she did not have enough experience in environmental issues, she was reluctant to accept the post. But her conviction of the link between health and the environment changed her mind. During the 1970s she acquired international recognition in environmental circles and a political reputation at home. 

             In 1981, she was appointed Prime Minister for the first time. Brundtland was the youngest person and the first woman to hold the office of Prime Minister in Norway. With two other periods as Prime Minister from 1986-1989 and 1990-1996, Brundtland was head of government for more than 10 years. 

             Throughout her political career, Brundtland has developed a growing concern for issues of global significance. In 1983, the United Nations Secretary-General invited her to establish and chair the World Commission on Environment and Development. The Commission, which is best known for developing the broad political concept of sustainable development, published its report “Our Common Future” in April 1987. The Commission's recommendations led to the Earth Summit—the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. 

             Brundtland finally stepped down as Prime Minister in October 1996. In her successful bid to become Director-General of the World Health Organization her many skills as doctor, politician, activist, and manager have come together. She was nominated as Director-General of the World Health Organization by the Executive Board of WHO in January 1998. The World Health Assembly elected her for the position on 13 May 1998. In her acceptance speech for the assembly, Brundtland said, “What is our key mission? I see WHO's role as being the moral voice and the technical leader in improving health of the people of the world, ready and able to give advice on the key issues that can unleash development and alleviate suffering. I see our purpose to be combating disease and ill-health—promoting sustainable and equitable health systems in all countries.” 

             Brundtland will present the ICAAC Lecture Tuesday, 16 September, 11:45-12:45 PM at McCormick Place in Chicago, Ill., during the 43rd ICAAC.