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Szeming Sze; World Health Organization Co-Founder

November 09, 1998|From Times Wire Services

OAKMONT, Pa. — Dr. Szeming Sze, who helped set up the United Nations' World Health Organization and served as the U.N.'s medical director for 20 years, has died. He was 90.

Sze died Oct. 27 at a nursing home in Oakmont, near Pittsburgh, after fighting Parkinson's disease for 10 years.

Born in Tientsin, China, and raised in England, Sze earned a degree in internal medicine at Cambridge University. His medical residency at St. Thomas Hospital in a London slum helped chart his career path.

"I began to be influenced less by the desire to be a great clinician with a lucrative private practice and more by the hope to be able to do some public service," Sze wrote in his "Memoirs of an International Life."

He married Bessie Li, a pianist, in 1934, and the couple moved to Shanghai. They were in the United States when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, and they stayed to work for China Defense Supplies, an organization set up by the Chinese government to secure American aid under the Lend-Lease Act.

Sze went to the U.N. conference in San Francisco in 1945 as an aide to Chinese Foreign Minister T.V. Soong. It was at that conference that the idea for the WHO came about "something by accident," Sze later recalled.

During a "medical lunch" that Sze had with Dr. Karl Evang of Norway and Dr. Geraldo De Paula Souza of Brazil, Evang proposed setting up a new health organization in conjunction with the United Nations.

The men asked Sze to put forth the idea in his role as a member of the Chinese delegation, one of the four nations--Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union and China--sponsoring the conference.

Sze got the approval of Soong, the head of the Chinese delegation, and wrote the declaration to set up an international conference to create the World Health Organization, which the San Francisco meeting adopted.

Sze became the U.N. medical director in 1948 and served in that post for 20 years until his retirement in 1968. He never worked for the WHO, which is credited with eradicating smallpox and with saving millions of children's lives each year through vaccination programs.

He is survived by daughter Diane Wei, son Chiaming, two sisters, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

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