See C. F. Brockington, World Health (1958); M. C. Morgan, Doctors to the World (1958); G. Mikes, The Riches of the Poor: A Journey Round the World Health Organization (1988); P. Wood, ed., World Health Organization; A Brief Summary of Its Work (1989); J. Siddiqi, World Health and World Politics (1995); G. L. Burci and C.-H. Vignes, World Health Organization (2004); K. Lee, The World Health Organization (2008).
Public-health agency of the UN, established in Geneva in 1948 to succeed two earlier agencies. Its mandate is to promote “the highest possible level of health” in all peoples. Its work falls into three categories. It provides a clearinghouse for information on the latest developments in disease and health care and establishes international sanitary standards and quarantine measures. It sponsors measures for the control of epidemic and endemic disease (including immunization campaigns and assistance in providing sources of pure water). Finally, it encourages the strengthening of public-health programs in member nations. Its greatest success to date has been the worldwide eradication of smallpox (1980).
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The WHO aims to eradicate polio within the next few years. The organization has already endorsed the world's first official HIV/AIDS Toolkit for Zimbabwe (from October 3 2006), making it an international standard.
In addition to its work in eradicating disease, the WHO also carries out various health-related campaigns — for example, to boost the consumption of fruits and vegetables worldwide and to discourage tobacco use.
Experts met at the WHO headquarters in Geneva in February, 2007, and reported that their work on pandemic influenza vaccine development had achieved encouraging progress. More than 40 clinical trials have been completed or are ongoing. Most have focused on healthy adults. Some companies, after completing safety analyses in adults, have initiated clinical trials in the elderly and in children. All vaccines so far appear to be safe and well-tolerated in all age groups tested.
The WHO also conducts research, on, for instance, whether the electromagnetic field surrounding cell phones has a negative influence on health. Some of this work can be controversial, as illustrated by the April, 2003, joint WHO/FAO report, which recommended that sugar should form no more than 10% of a healthy diet. This report led to lobbying by the sugar industry against the recommendation, to which the WHO/FAO responded by including in the report the statement "The Consultation recognized that a population goal for free sugars of less than 10% of total energy is controversial", but also stood by its recommendation based upon its own analysis of scientific studies.
The WHO also compiles the widely-followed International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The tenth revision of the ICD, also known as ICD-10, was released in 1992 and a searchable version is available online on the WHO website. Later revisions are indexed and available in hard-copy versions. The WHO does not permit simultaneous classification in two separate areas.
The WHO also maintains a model list of essential medicines that all countries' health-care systems should make available and affordable to the general population.
WHO Member States appoint delegations to the World Health Assembly, WHO's supreme decision-making body. All UN member states are eligible for WHO membership, and, according to the WHO web site, “Other countries may be admitted as members when their application has been approved by a simple majority vote of the World Health Assembly.” The WHO has 193 member states.
The WHO Assembly generally meets in May each year. In addition to appointing the Director-General every five years, the Assembly considers the financial policies of the Organization and reviews and approves the proposed programme budget. The Assembly elects 34 members, technically qualified in the field of health, to the Executive Board for three-year terms. The main functions of the Board are to carry out the decisions and policies of the Assembly, to advise it and to facilitate its work in general.
The Republic of China (Taiwan) was one of the founding members of the WHO, but was compelled to leave after the People’s Republic of China was admitted to the UN in 1972 and Taiwan left the UN. Taiwan has applied for participation in the WHO as a 'health entity' each year since 1997 but is denied each year because of pressure from China. China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, and its position is that Taiwan is represented in the WHO system by China. In practice, Taiwanese doctors and hospitals are denied access to WHO information, and Taiwanese journalists are denied accreditation for participation in WHO activities.
Uncharacteristically for a UN Agency, the six Regional Offices of the WHO enjoy remarkable autonomy. Each Regional Office is headed by a Regional Director (RD), who is elected by the Regional Committee for a once-renewable five-year term. The name of the RD-elect is transmitted to the WHO Executive Board in Geneva, which proceeds to confirm the appointment. It is rare that an elected Regional Director is not confirmed.
Each Regional Committee of the WHO consists of all the Health Department heads, in all the governments of the countries that constitute the Region. Aside from electing the Regional Director, the Regional Committee is also in charge of setting the guidelines for the implementation, within the region, of the Health and other policies adopted by the World Health Assembly. The Regional Committee also serves as a progress review board for the actions of the WHO within the Region.
The Regional Director is effectively the head of the WHO for his or her Region. The RD manages and/or supervises a staff of health and other experts at the regional headquarters and in specialised centres. The RD is also the direct supervising authority — concomitantly with the WHO Director General — of all the heads of WHO country offices, known as WHO Representatives, within the Region.
The Regional Offices are:
The World Health Organization operates 147 country and liaison offices in all its regions. The presence of a country office is generally motivated by a need, stated by the member country. There will generally be one WHO country office in the capital, occasionally accompanied by satellite-offices in the provinces or sub-regions of the country in question.
The country office is headed by a WHO Representative (WR), who is a trained physician, not a national of that country, who holds diplomatic rank and is due privileges and immunities similar to those of a Head of Diplomatic Mission or a diplomatic Ambassador. In most countries, the WR (like Representatives of other UN agencies) is de facto and/or de jure treated like an Ambassador - the distinction here being that instead of being an Ambassador of one sovereign country to another, the WR is a senior UN civil servant, who serves as the "Ambassador" of the WHO to the country to which he or she is accredited. Hence, the slightly less glamorous title of Representative, or Resident Representative.
The country office consists of the WR, and several health and other experts, both foreign and local, as well as the necessary support staff. The main functions of WHO country offices include being the primary adviser of that country's government in matters of health and pharmaceutical policies.
International liaison offices serve largely the same purpose as country offices, but generally on a smaller scale. These are often found in countries that want WHO presence and cooperation, but do not have the major health system flaws that require the presence of a full-blown country office. Liaison offices are headed by a liaison officer, who is a national from that particular country, without diplomatic immunity.
|Name||Country/Region||Term of Office|
|Marcolino Gomes Candau||1953–1973|
|Halfdan T. Mahler||1973–1988|
|Gro Harlem Brundtland||1998–2003|
|Lee Jong-wook||2003–2006 (died on May 22)|
|Margaret Chan||January 4, 2007–|
The production and dissemination of health statistics for health action at country, regional and global levels is a core WHO activity mandated to WHO by its Member States in its Constitution. WHO produced figures carry great weight in national and international resource allocation, policy making and programming, based on its reputation as "unbiased" (impartial and fair), global (not belonging to any camp), and technically competent (consulting leading research and policy institutions and individuals).
There is pending controversy on the relation between the WHO and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Since May 28, 1959, there has been an agreement between these organizations, confirmed by World Health Assembly resolution WHA12.40. Numerous people, including Michel Fernex (a retired medical doctor from the WHO), have criticized this agreement as preventing the WHO from properly conducting its activities relating to health effects of ionizing radiation. Notably it is argued that the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe are significantly played down by the WHO because of this agreement. The WHO has concluded on 50 near-immediate deaths and potentially 4,000 cancers in the longer term, but other accounts quote between 50,000 and 150,000 people already died, and several hundreds of thousands of people are ill, handicapped, etc. Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that seven million people are affected by the catastrophe.
Particularly, the proceedings of the 1995 Geneva conference and the report of the Kiev 2001 conference on the effects of the Chernobyl disaster were never published, which is very unusual. Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, former WHO Director-General, admitted in a Swiss television interview that these documents had been censored based on the agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Since April 27, 2007, a permanent presence opposite the main driveway to WHO premises is maintained in protest against the agreement between WHO and IAEA.