Born in Korea in 1945, he studied medicine in Seoul and in Hawaii. He began his career working for the WHO in 1983, in the South Pacific, as a leprosy consultant. He then specialised on the issues of tuberculosis and preventive vaccination for children. In 2000, he set up the Stop TB program. Known for his ability to implement the WHO's policies in the most impoverished regions of the world, he was nominated Director General in January 2003, initially for 5 years.
Jong-wook Lee died on 22 May 2006, following a sudden illness.