| Founded in
1948, the World Health Organization leads the world
alliance for health for all. A specialized agency
of the United Nations with 191 Member Sates, WHO
promotes technical cooperation for health among
nations, carries out programmes to control and eradicate
disease, and strives to improve the quality of human
WHO has four main functions:
- to give worldwide guidance in the field of
- to set global standards for health
- to cooperate with governments in strengthening
national health programmes
- to develop and transfer appropriate health
technology, information and standards
The WHO definition of health:
'Health is a state of complete physical, mental
and social well-being and not merely the absence
of disease or infirmity.'
A major event in WHO's first fifty years was
the global eradication of smallpox. This disease
scarred and killed millions before being officially
declared eradicated in 1980. Eradication resulted
in a huge reduction in human suffering and great
financial savings. The United States alone saves
its entire investment in the eradication programme
every month because costly protection measures
are no longer needed.
Other diseases such as polio and guinea-worm
disease are on the threshold of eradication and,
thanks to new and better methods of treatment,
leprosy is also being overcome.
But, as well as fighting infectious diseases,
WHO is a key player in promoting primary health
care, delivering essential drugs, making cities
healthier, building partnerships for health, promoting
healthy lifestyles and environments to achieve
health for all.
Health Promotion and the Environment
WHO has initiated successful health promotion
projects, such as Healthy Cities and Villages,
Healthy Islands and Health-Promoting Schools,
Hospitals and Work Sites. Some projects target
vulnerable populations such as the elderly and
women. Others focus on encouraging healthy lifestyles,
sexual health and tobacco-free societies.
The impact of the environment on health is a
high priority for WHO. One example is access to
safe drinking water. WHO puts the highest priority
on the development of community water supplies
and sanitation facilities with the AFRICA 2000
initiative. WHO is deeply concerned with prevention
and control of ionising radiation so dramatically
highlighted by the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
Other issues such as the health effects of electromagnetic
fields and the increasing depletion of the ozone
layer, are of major concern.
WHO: A Motor for Health Research
Working with its partners in health research,
WHO gathers current data on conditions and needs,
particularly in developing countries. These range
from the evaluation of school health programmes,
to epidemiological research in remote tropical
forests, to monitoring the progress of genetic
engineering in the laboratory.
WHO's tropical disease research programme is
tackling insecticide resistance and the resistance
of the malaria parasite in humans to the most
In the field of health management, research includes
studies into the cost-effectiveness of health
care. Research also helps to improve national
and international epidemiological surveillance,
and to develop preventive strategies for new and
emerging diseases that integrate laboratory discoveries
with the latest information from the field.
Scientific and Ethical Action
Improved health is not achieved just with financial
resources and high technology. It requires a social
conscience and a commitment to share the advances
of health science throughout society.
Every field of health raises ethical questions
concerning sex, birth, confidentiality and personal
safety. WHO helps safeguard ethical standards
by insisting, for example, that consensus must
be reached on what is acceptable in cloning, that
there is informed consent when carrying out experiments
with humans, or estimating how much risk should
be borne by volunteers testing the efficacy of
drugs or vaccines. WHO brings together the world's
experts to reach consensus on such key issues.
Challenges for the Future
Much of the world has benefited from better health
in the 50 years since WHO was founded. But the
need for WHO is greater than ever.
Cholera and malaria were major health priorities
in 1948; unfortunately, after a period of decline,
both are on the increase again, and so remain
a problem. There are other examples of so-called
're-emerging' diseases and, to make matters worse,
some medicines and antibiotics are becoming less
The Next 50 Years - Health for
all in the 21st Century
A new global health policy to meet future health
challenges has been developed by the World Health
Organization in consultation with all its national
and international partners.
Health for All (HFA) seeks to create the conditions
where people have, as a fundamental human right,
the opportunity to reach and maintain the highest
attainable level of health. The vision of a renewed
HFA policy builds on the WHO Constitution, the
experience of the past and the needs of the future.
Fifty years may seem a long time to individuals,
but it is a short spell in human history. For
two centuries it was known that smallpox could
be prevented, but only in the 20th Century was
a coalition organised by WHO able to do something
definitive about it. With political will, commitment
and a willingness to work together, there is no
reason why this success cannot be continued.
With thanks to
Public Relations Department
World Health Organization