“Dr. Lee Jong-wook, who led the U.N. health agency’s battles against SARS and bird flu, died Monday following surgery for a blood clot in the brain. He was 61.

Tributes praised Lee for his effectiveness in spurring the world to build its defenses against a potentially deadly flu pandemic during his tenure as director-general of the World Health Organization.

“Dr. Lee worked tirelessly to improve the health of millions of people, from combating tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS to his aggressive efforts to eradicate polio,” President Bush said in a statement.

“The world has lost a great man today,” said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. “He tackled the most difficult problems head on, while upholding the highest principles.”Lee fell ill Saturday while attending a function in Geneva and underwent surgery later that day, the agency said. Anders Nordstrom of Sweden will take over as WHO’s acting director-general.

The opening session of the World Health Assembly, the annual meeting of the 192 members of WHO, observed two minutes of silence Monday, and flags flew at half-staff outside the U.N. European headquarters building, where the meeting took place.” [Full story]

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