Serious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, Ebola, tuberculosis and many others have been prevalent across our planet for decades. It is not in the capabilities of one nation to effectively manage and eradicate these afflictions. What’s needed is an international organisation, dedicated not to only caring for those within their geographical boundaries, but to strive towards better health for all of the world’s population.

Fortunately, such an organisation exists, known as the World Health Organisation (or, more commonly, as WHO).

In this blog, Team Med answers the question: “Who are WHO?”

W.H.O. – What, When, Where and Why

Before WHO, there was a significant lack of global collaboration when dealing with widespread diseases. Between 1851 and 1938, there was a series of 14 International Sanitary Conferences, attempting to combat the most rampant illnesses at the time, such as yellow fever, cholera and the bubonic plague with little success.

Then, in 1945, several delegates at the United Nations Conference on International Organisation proposed starting an international health organisation. After several years of back and forth discussions, lobbying, and passing of declarations, the constitution of the World Health Organisation came into force on 7 April 1948 – a date now celebrated every year as World Health Day.

Today, WHO has more than 7000 people working towards better global health across the world, with 150 country offices in six regions, directed from their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. As a United Nations entity, the organisation’s primary function is to direct and coordinate international health concerns, working with separate nation’s health systems, managing communicable and noncommunicable diseases, surveillance, response, as well as any corporate services. This can spread through partnerships with governments, foundations and the private sector, all to attain greater health for all.

WHO Achievements

  • Smallpox – Once a mercilessly contagious affliction, in 1980, smallpox was declared eradicated, thanks to a global immunisation campaign implemented by WHO. To date it is the only infectious disease to be eradicated.
  • Vaccinations – In the early ‘70s, WHO created the Expanded Programme on Immunisation, which partners with UNICEF, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance and other committed organisations to deliver lifesaving vaccinations to millions of children in need.
  • Tuberculosis – Whilst not as widespread in the western world, WHO’s global work surrounding prevention, diagnosis and treatment has saved over 53 million lives in the past two decades alone.
  • Malaria – Applying similar approaches as with tuberculosis, deaths caused by malaria have seen a stark drop of 60% across the world, thanks to WHO’s efforts.
  • Water & Sanitation – Ensuring that communities across the planet have access to clean water is one of WHO’s highest priorities, as it goes a long way to prevent waterborne diseases from spreading.
  • HIV/AIDS – For decades, HIV/AIDS has been one of the largest public health issues of all time. As a response, WHO has put forward new recommendations that call for treatment that is both earlier and simpler, as well as growing efforts to make the necessary medication more accessible and affordable.
  • Essential Medicines List – WHO revise their Essential Medicines List every two years, to align with the prevalent illnesses pervasive throughout the world, and demonstrating to every national health system what core medicines they must possess.
  • Noncommunicable Diseases – Diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes are the culprits behind 70% of deaths occurring around the world. WHO also implement appropriate NCD prevention and control through promoting healthy eating, regular health checks, physical exercise, and more.
  • Mental Health Emergencies – People are more vulnerable to suffer from mental health problems when living through humanitarian emergencies. WHO initiatives include the provision of psychological and mental health support in a coordinated manner during humanitarian emergencies.

WHO’s Future

Moving forward, WHO are redirecting a lot of their attention to building better health not just for our planet’s people, but for our planet itself. After all, with the many threats a rising climate can pose to our health, and the lack effective action being taken by other governmental bodies to reduce global warming’s impacts, effective actions need to be taken to protect people who may not have the resources to receive care for their resultant afflictions.