World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health. It was established on 7 April 1948, and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The WHO is a member of the United Nations Development Group. Its predecessor, the Health Organization, was an agency of the League of Nations.

World Health Organization
Logo of the WHO
Formation7 April 1948 (1948-04-07)
TypeUnited Nations specialized agency
Legal statusActive
HeadquartersGeneva, Switzerland
Tedros Adhanom
Parent organization
United Nations Economic and Social Council
Politics portal

The WHO constitution has been signed by 61 countries (all 51 member countries and 10 others) on 22 July 1946, with the first meeting of the World Health Assembly finishing on 24 July 1948. It incorporated the Office International d'Hygiène Publique and the League of Nations Health Organization. Since its establishment, it has played a leading role in the eradication of smallpox. Its current priorities include communicable diseases, in particular HIV/AIDS, Ebola, malaria and tuberculosis; the mitigation of the effects of non-communicable diseases such as sexual and reproductive health, development, and aging; nutrition, food security and healthy eating; occupational health; substance abuse; and driving the development of reporting, publications, and networking.

The WHO is responsible for the World Health Report, the worldwide World Health Survey, and World Health Day. The current Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom, also served as Ethiopian Health Minister from 2005 to 2012 and as Ethiopian Foreign Minister from 2012 to 2016. Adhanom started his five-year term on 1 July 2017.[1]



The International Sanitary Conferences, originally held on 23 June 1851, were the first predecessors of the WHO. A series of 14 conferences that lasted from 1851 to 1938, the International Sanitary Conferences worked to combat many diseases, chief among them cholera, yellow fever, and the bubonic plague. The conferences were largely ineffective until the seventh, in 1892; when an International Sanitary Convention that dealt with cholera was passed. Five years later, a convention for the plague was signed.[2] In part as a result of the successes of the Conferences, the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau, and the Office International d'Hygiène Publique were soon founded in 1902 and 1907, respectively. When the League of Nations was formed in 1920, they established the Health Organization of the League of Nations. After World War II, the United Nations absorbed all the other health organizations, to form the WHO.[3]


During the 1945 United Nations Conference on International Organization, Szeming Sze, a delegate from China, conferred with Norwegian and Brazilian delegates on creating an international health organization under the auspices of the new United Nations. After failing to get a resolution passed on the subject, Alger Hiss, the Secretary General of the conference, recommended using a declaration to establish such an organization. Sze and other delegates lobbied and a declaration passed calling for an international conference on health.[4] The use of the word "world", rather than "international", emphasized the truly global nature of what the organization was seeking to achieve.[5] The constitution of the World Health Organization was signed by all 51 countries of the United Nations, and by 10 other countries, on 22 July 1946.[6] It thus became the first specialized agency of the United Nations to which every member subscribed.[7] Its constitution formally came into force on the first World Health Day on 7 April 1948, when it was ratified by the 26th member state.[6] The first meeting of the World Health Assembly finished on 24 July 1948, having secured a budget of US$5 million (then GB£1,250,000) for the 1949 year. Andrija Stampar was the Assembly's first president, and G. Brock Chisholm was appointed Director-General of WHO, having served as Executive Secretary during the planning stages.[5] Its first priorities were to control the spread of malaria, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections, and to improve maternal and child health, nutrition and environmental hygiene.[8] Its first legislative act was concerning the compilation of accurate statistics on the spread and morbidity of disease.[5] The logo of the World Health Organization features the Rod of Asclepius as a symbol for healing.[9]

Operational history of WHO

Three former directors of the Global Smallpox Eradication Programme read the news that smallpox had been globally eradicated, 1980

1947: The WHO established an epidemiological information service via telex, and by 1950 a mass tuberculosis inoculation drive using the BCG vaccine was under way.

1955: The malaria eradication programme was launched, although it was later altered in objective. 1965 saw the first report on diabetes mellitus and the creation of the International Agency for Research on Cancer.[10]

1958: Viktor Zhdanov, Deputy Minister of Health for the USSR, called on the World Health Assembly to undertake a global initiative to eradicate smallpox, resulting in Resolution WHA11.54.[11] At this point, 2 million people were dying from smallpox every year.

1966: The WHO moved its headquarters from the Ariana wing at the Palace of Nations to a newly constructed HQ elsewhere in Geneva.[10][12]

1967: The WHO intensified the global smallpox eradication by contributing $2.4 million annually to the effort and adopted a new disease surveillance method.[13][14] The initial problem the WHO team faced was inadequate reporting of smallpox cases. WHO established a network of consultants who assisted countries in setting up surveillance and containment activities.[15] The WHO also helped contain the last European outbreak in Yugoslavia in 1972.[16] After over two decades of fighting smallpox, the WHO declared in 1979 that the disease had been eradicated – the first disease in history to be eliminated by human effort.[17]

1967: The WHO launched the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases and the World Health Assembly voted to enact a resolution on Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation, with a focus on community-driven care.

1974: The Expanded Programme on Immunization and the control programme of onchocerciasis was started, an important partnership between the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the World Bank.

1977: The first list of essential medicines was drawn up, and a year later the ambitious goal of "Health For All" was declared.

1986: The WHO began its global programme on HIV/AIDS. Two years later preventing discrimination against sufferers was attended to and in 1996 UNAIDS was formed.

1988: The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was established.[10]

1998: WHO's Director-General highlighted gains in child survival, reduced infant mortality, increased life expectancy and reduced rates of "scourges" such as smallpox and polio on the fiftieth anniversary of WHO's founding. He, did, however, accept that more had to be done to assist maternal health and that progress in this area had been slow.[18]

2000: The Stop TB Partnership was created along with the UN's formulation of the Millennium Development Goals.

2001: The measles initiative was formed, and credited with reducing global deaths from the disease by 68% by 2007.

2002: The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was drawn up to improve the resources available.[10]

2006: The organization endorsed the world's first official HIV/AIDS Toolkit for Zimbabwe, which formed the basis for global prevention, treatment, and support the plan to fight the AIDS pandemic.[19]

Overall focus

The WHO's Constitution states that its objective "is the attainment by all people of the highest possible level of health".[20]

The WHO fulfills this objective through its functions as defined in its Constitution: (a) To act as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work; (b) To establish and maintain effective collaboration with the United Nations, specialized agencies, governmental health administrations, professional groups and such other organizations as may be deemed appropriate; (c) To assist Governments, upon request, in strengthening health services; (d) To furnish appropriate technical assistance and, in emergencies, necessary aid upon the request or acceptance of Governments; (e) To provide or assist in providing, upon the request of the United Nations, health services and facilities to special groups, such as the peoples of trust territories; (f) To establish and maintain such administrative and technical services as may be required, including epidemiological and statistical services; (g) to stimulate and advance work to eradicate epidemic, endemic and other diseases; (h) To promote, in co-operation with other specialized agencies where necessary, the prevention of accidental injuries; (i) To promote, in co-operation with other specialized agencies where necessary, the improvement of nutrition, housing, sanitation, recreation, economic or working conditions and other aspects of environmental hygiene; (j) To promote co-operation among scientific and professional groups which contribute to the advancement of health; (k) To propose conventions, agreements and regulations, and make recommendations with respect to international health matters and to perform.

As of 2012, the WHO has defined its role in public health as follows:[21]

  • providing leadership on matters critical to health and engaging in partnerships where joint action is needed;
  • shaping the research agenda and stimulating the generation, translation, and dissemination of valuable knowledge;[22]
  • setting norms and standards and promoting and monitoring their implementation;
  • articulating ethical and evidence-based policy options;
  • providing technical support, catalysing change, and building sustainable institutional capacity; and
  • monitoring the health situation and assessing health trends.
  • CRVS (Civil Registration and Vital Statistics) to provide monitoring of vital events (birth, death, wedding, divorce).[23]

a) Communicable diseases

The 2012–2013 WHO budget identified 5 areas among which funding was distributed.[24] Two of those five areas related to communicable diseases: the first, to reduce the "health, social and economic burden" of communicable diseases in general; the second to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in particular.[24]

As of 2015, the World Health Organization has worked within the UNAIDS network and strives to involve sections of society other than health to help deal with the economic and social effects of HIV/AIDS.[25] In line with UNAIDS, WHO has set itself the interim task between 2009 and 2015 of reducing the number of those aged 15–24 years who are infected by 50%; reducing new HIV infections in children by 90%; and reducing HIV-related deaths by 25%.[26]

During the 1970s, WHO had dropped its commitment to a global malaria eradication campaign as too ambitious, it retained a strong commitment to malaria control. WHO's Global Malaria Programme works to keep track of malaria cases, and future problems in malaria control schemes. As of 2012, the WHO was to report as to whether RTS,S/AS01, were a viable malaria vaccine. For the time being, insecticide-treated mosquito nets and insecticide sprays are used to prevent the spread of malaria, as are antimalarial drugs – particularly to vulnerable people such as pregnant women and young children.[27]

Between 1990 and 2010, WHO's help has contributed to a 40% decline in the number of deaths from tuberculosis, and since 2005, over 46 million people have been treated and an estimated 7 million lives saved through practices advocated by WHO. These include engaging national governments and their financing, early diagnosis, standardising treatment, monitoring of the spread and effect of tuberculosis and stabilising the drug supply. It has also recognized the vulnerability of victims of HIV/AIDS to tuberculosis.[28]

In 1988, WHO launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to eradicate polio. It has also been successful in helping to reduce cases by 99% since which partnered WHO with Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and smaller organizations. As of 2011, it has been working to immunize young children and prevent the re-emergence of cases in countries declared "polio-free".[29] In 2017, a study was conducted where why Polio Vaccines may not be enough to eradicate the Virus & conduct new technology. Polio is now on the verge of extinction, thanks to a Global Vaccination Drive. the World Health Organization (WHO) stated the eradication programme has saved millions from deadly disease.

b) Non-communicable diseases

Another of the thirteen WHO priority areas is aimed at the prevention and reduction of "disease, disability and premature deaths from chronic noncommunicable diseases, mental disorders, violence and injuries, and visual impairment".[24][30] The Division of Noncommunicable Diseases for Promoting Health through the Life-course Sexual and Reproductive Health has published the magazine, Entre Nous, across Europe since 1983.[31]

c) Environmental health

The WHO estimates that 12.6 million people died as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment in 2012 – this accounts for nearly 1 in 4 of total global deaths. Environmental risk factors, such as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation, contribute to more than 100 diseases and injuries. This can result in a number of pollution-related diseases.[32]

  • 2018 (30 October – 1 November) : 1 WHO’s first global conference on air pollution and health (Improving air quality, combatting climate change – saving lives) ; organized in collaboration with UN Environment, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)[33]

d) Life course and life style

WHO works to "reduce morbidity and mortality and improve health during key stages of life, including pregnancy, childbirth, the neonatal period, childhood and adolescence, and improve sexual and reproductive health and promote active and healthy aging for all individuals".[24][34]

It also tries to prevent or reduce risk factors for "health conditions associated with use of tobacco, alcohol, drugs and other psychoactive substances, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity and unsafe sex".[24][35][36]

The WHO works to improve nutrition, food safety and food security and to ensure this has a positive effect on public health and sustainable development.[24]

In April 2019, the WHO released new recommendations stating that children between the ages of two and five should spend no more than one hour per day engaging in sedentary behavior in front of a screen and that children under two should not be permitted any sedentary screen time.[37]

e) Surgery and trauma care

The World Health Organization promotes road safety as a means to reduce traffic-related injuries.[38] It has also worked on global initiatives in surgery, including emergency and essential surgical care,[39] trauma care,[40] and safe surgery.[41] The WHO Surgical Safety Checklist is in current use worldwide in the effort to improve patient safety.[42]

f) Emergency work

The World Health Organization's primary objective in natural and man-made emergencies is to coordinate with member states and other stakeholders to "reduce avoidable loss of life and the burden of disease and disability."[24]

On 5 May 2014, WHO announced that the spread of polio was a world health emergency – outbreaks of the disease in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East were considered "extraordinary".[43][44]

On 8 August 2014, WHO declared that the spread of Ebola was a public health emergency; an outbreak which was believed to have started in Guinea had spread to other nearby countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone. The situation in West Africa was considered very serious.[45]

g) Health policy

WHO addresses government health policy with two aims: firstly, "to address the underlying social and economic determinants of health through policies and programmes that enhance health equity and integrate pro-poor, gender-responsive, and human rights-based approaches" and secondly "to promote a healthier environment, intensify primary prevention and influence public policies in all sectors so as to address the root causes of environmental threats to health".[24]

The organization develops and promotes the use of evidence-based tools, norms and standards to support member states to inform health policy options. It oversees the implementation of the International Health Regulations, and publishes a series of medical classifications; of these, three are over-reaching "reference classifications": the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD), the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) and the International Classification of Health Interventions (ICHI).[46] Other international policy frameworks produced by WHO include the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (adopted in 1981),[47] Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (adopted in 2003)[48] the Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel (adopted in 2010)[49] as well as the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines and its pediatric counterpart.

In terms of health services, WHO looks to improve "governance, financing, staffing and management" and the availability and quality of evidence and research to guide policy. It also strives to "ensure improved access, quality and use of medical products and technologies".[24] WHO – working with donor agencies and national governments – can improve their use of and their reporting about their use of research evidence.[50]

Governance and support

The remaining two of WHO's thirteen identified policy areas relate to the role of WHO itself:[24]

  • "to provide leadership, strengthen governance and foster partnership and collaboration with countries, the United Nations system, and other stakeholders in order to fulfill the mandate of WHO in advancing the global health agenda"; and
  • "to develop and sustain WHO as a flexible, learning organization, enabling it to carry out its mandate more efficiently and effectively".


The WHO along with the World Bank constitute the core team responsible for administering the International Health Partnership (IHP+). The IHP+ is a group of partner governments, development agencies, civil society and others committed to improving the health of citizens in developing countries. Partners work together to put international principles for aid effectiveness and development co-operation into practice in the health sector.[51]

The organization relies on contributions from renowned scientists and professionals to inform its work, such as the WHO Expert Committee on Biological Standardization,[52] the WHO Expert Committee on Leprosy,[53] and the WHO Study Group on Interprofessional Education & Collaborative Practice.[54]

WHO runs the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, targeted at improving health policy and systems.[55]

WHO also aims to improve access to health research and literature in developing countries such as through the HINARI network.[56]

WHO collaborates with the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, UNITAID, and the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief[57] to spearhead and fund the development of HIV programs.

WHO created the Civil Society Reference Group on HIV,[57] which brings together other networks that are involved in policy making and the dissemination of guidelines.

WHO, a sector of the United Nations, partners with UNAIDS[57] to contribute to the development of HIV responses in different areas of the world.

WHO facilitates technical partnerships through the Technical Advisory Committee on HIV,[58] which they created to develop WHO guidelines and policies.

In 2014 WHO released the Global Atlas of Palliative Care at the End of Life in a joint publication with the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance, an affiliated NGO working collaboratively with the WHO to promote palliative care in national and international health policy.[59][60]

Public health education and action

Each year, the organization marks World Health Day and other observances focusing on a specific health promotion topic. World Health Day falls on 7 April each year, timed to match the anniversary of WHO's founding. Recent themes have been vector-borne diseases (2014), healthy ageing (2012) and drug resistance (2011).[61]

The other official global public health campaigns marked by WHO are World Tuberculosis Day, World Immunization Week, World Malaria Day, World No Tobacco Day, World Blood Donor Day, World Hepatitis Day, and World AIDS Day.

As part of the United Nations, the World Health Organization supports work towards the Millennium Development Goals.[62] Of the eight Millennium Development Goals, three – reducing child mortality by two-thirds, to reduce maternal deaths by three-quarters, and to halt and begin to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS – relate directly to WHO's scope; the other five inter-relate and affect world health.[63]

Data handling and publications

The World Health Organization works to provide the needed health and well-being evidence through a variety of data collection platforms, including the World Health Survey covering almost 400,000 respondents from 70 countries,[64] and the Study on Global Aging and Adult Health (SAGE) covering over 50,000 persons over 50 years old in 23 countries.[65] The Country Health Intelligence Portal (CHIP), has also been developed to provide an access point to information about the health services that are available in different countries.[66] The information gathered in this portal is used by the countries to set priorities for future strategies or plans, implement, monitor, and evaluate it.

The WHO has published various tools for measuring and monitoring the capacity of national health systems[67] and health workforces.[68] The Global Health Observatory (GHO) has been the WHO's main portal which provides access to data and analyses for key health themes by monitoring health situations around the globe.[69]

The WHO Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems (WHO-AIMS), the WHO Quality of Life Instrument (WHOQOL), and the Service Availability and Readiness Assessment (SARA) provide guidance for data collection.[70] Collaborative efforts between WHO and other agencies, such as through the Health Metrics Network, also aim to provide sufficient high-quality information to assist governmental decision making.[71] WHO promotes the development of capacities in member states to use and produce research that addresses their national needs, including through the Evidence-Informed Policy Network (EVIPNet).[72] The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/AMRO) became the first region to develop and pass a policy on research for health approved in September 2009.[73]

On 10 December 2013, a new WHO database, known as MiNDbank, went online. The database was launched on Human Rights Day, and is part of WHO's QualityRights initiative, which aims to end human rights violations against people with mental health conditions. The new database presents a great deal of information about mental health, substance abuse, disability, human rights, and the different policies, strategies, laws, and service standards being implemented in different countries.[74] It also contains important international documents and information. The database allows visitors to access the health information of WHO member states and other partners. Users can review policies, laws, and strategies and search for the best practices and success stories in the field of mental health.[74]

The WHO regularly publishes a World Health Report, its leading publication, including an expert assessment of a specific global health topic.[75] Other publications of WHO include the Bulletin of the World Health Organization,[76] the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal (overseen by EMRO),[77] the Human Resources for Health (published in collaboration with BioMed Central),[78] and the Pan American Journal of Public Health (overseen by PAHO/AMRO).[79]

In 2016, the World Health Organization drafted a global health sector strategy on HIV. In the draft, the World Health Organization outlines its commitment to ending the AIDS epidemic by the year 2030[80] with interim targets for the year 2020. In order to make achievements towards these targets, the draft lists actions that countries and the WHO can take, such as a commitment to universal health coverage, medical accessibility, prevention and eradication of disease, and efforts to educate the public. Some notable points made in the draft include addressing gender inequity where females are nearly twice as likely as men to get infected with HIV and tailoring resources to mobilized regions where the health system may be compromised due to natural disasters, etc. Among the points made, it seems clear that although the prevalence of HIV transmission is declining, there is still a need for resources, health education, and global efforts to end this epidemic.


The World Health Organization is a member of the United Nations Development Group.[81]


Countries by World Health Organization membership status

As of 2016, the WHO has 194 member states: all of the Member States of the United Nations except for the Cook Islands and Niue.[82] (A state becomes a full member of WHO by ratifying the treaty known as the Constitution of the World Health Organization.) As of 2013, it also had two associate members, Puerto Rico and Tokelau.[83] Several other countries have been granted observer status. Palestine is an observer as a "national liberation movement" recognized by the League of Arab States under United Nations Resolution 3118. The Holy See also attends as an observer, as does the Order of Malta.[84] In 2010, Taiwan was invited under the name of "Republic of China".[85]

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 website, "other countries may be admitted as members when their application has been approved by a simple majority vote of the World Health Assembly".[82] Liechtenstein is currently the only UN member not in the WHO membership. The World Health Assembly is attended by delegations from all Member States, and determines the policies of the Organization.

The Executive Board is composed of members technically qualified in health, and gives effect to the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly. In addition, the UN observer organizations International Committee of the Red Cross and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have entered into "official relations" with WHO and are invited as observers. In the World Health Assembly they are seated alongside the other NGOs.[84]

World Health Assembly and Executive Board

WHO Headquarters in Geneva

The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the legislative and supreme body of WHO. Based in Geneva, it typically meets yearly in May. It appoints the Director-General every five years and votes on matters of policy and finance of WHO, including the proposed budget. It also reviews reports of the Executive Board and decides whether there are areas of work requiring further examination. 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.[86] The current chairman of the executive board is Dr. Assad Hafeez.


Directors-General of the WHO[87]
Name and Nationality Years of tenure
Tedros Adhanom2017 – present
Margaret Chan2007–2017
Anders Nordström*2006–2007
Lee Jong-wook2003–2006
Gro Harlem Brundtland1998–2003
Hiroshi Nakajima1988–1998
Halfdan T. Mahler1973–1988
Marcolino Gomes Candau1953–1973
Brock Chisholm1948–1953
*Appointed acting Director-General following the death of Lee Jong-wook while in office

The head of the organization is the Director-General, elected by the World Health Assembly.[88] The term lasts for 5 years, and Director-Generals are typically appointed in May, when the Assembly meets. The current Director-General is Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who was appointed on 1 July 2017.[89]

Global institutions

Apart from regional, country and liaison offices, the World Health Assembly has also established other institutions for promoting and carrying on research.[90]

Regional offices

Map of the WHO's Regional offices and their respective operating regions.
  Africa; HQ: Brazzaville, Republic of Congo
  Western Pacific; HQ: Manila, Philippines
  Eastern Mediterranean; HQ: Cairo, Egypt
  South East Asia; HQ: New Delhi, India
  Europe; HQ: Copenhagen, Denmark
  Americas; HQ: Washington D.C., USA

The regional divisions of WHO were created between 1949 and 1952, and are based on article 44 of the WHO's constitution, which allowed the WHO to "establish a [single] regional organization to meet the special needs of [each defined] area". Many decisions are made at regional level, including important discussions over WHO's budget, and in deciding the members of the next assembly, which are designated by the regions.[92]

Each region has a Regional Committee, which generally meets once a year, normally in the autumn. Representatives attend from each member or associative member in each region, including those states that are not full members. For example, Palestine attends meetings of the Eastern Mediterranean Regional office. Each region also has a regional office.[92] Each Regional Office is headed by a Regional Director, who is elected by the Regional Committee. The Board must approve such appointments, although as of 2004, it had never over-ruled the preference of a regional committee. The exact role of the board in the process has been a subject of debate, but the practical effect has always been small.[92] Since 1999, Regional Directors serve for a once-renewable five-year term, and typically take their position on 1 February.[93]

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 WHO within the Region.

The Regional Director is effectively the head of WHO for his or her Region. The RD manages and/or supervises a staff of health and other experts at the regional offices and in specialized 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.

Regional Offices of WHO
Region Headquarters Notes Website
Africa Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo AFRO includes most of Africa, with the exception of Egypt, Sudan, Djibouti, Tunisia, Libya, Somalia and Morocco (all fall under EMRO).[94] The Regional Director is Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, a Botswanan national. (Tenure: -Present).[95] AFRO
Europe Copenhagen, Denmark EURO includes all of Europe (except Liechtenstein) Israel, and all of the former USSR.[96] The Regional Director is Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, a Hungarian national (Tenure: 2010 – present).[97] EURO
South-East Asia New Delhi, India North Korea is served by SEARO.[98] The Regional Director is Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, an Indian national (Tenure: 2014 – present).[99] SEARO
Eastern Mediterranean Cairo, Egypt The Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office serves the countries of Africa that are not included in AFRO, as well as all countries in the Middle East except for Israel. Pakistan is served by EMRO.[100] The Regional Director is Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, an Omani national (Tenure: 2018 – present).[101] EMRO
Western Pacific Manila, the Philippines WPRO covers all the Asian countries not served by SEARO and EMRO, and all the countries in Oceania. South Korea is served by WPRO.[102] The Regional Director is Dr. Shin Young-soo, a South Korean national (Tenure: 2009 – present).[103] WPRO
The Americas Washington, D.C., United States Also known as the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and covers the Americas.[104] The WHO Regional Director is Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, a Dominican national (Tenure: 2013 – present).[105] AMRO


The WHO employs 8,500 people in 147 countries to carry out its principles.[106] In support of the principle of a tobacco-free work environment, the WHO does not recruit cigarette smokers.[107] The organization has previously instigated the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003.[108]

Goodwill Ambassadors

The WHO operates "Goodwill Ambassadors"; members of the arts, sports, or other fields of public life aimed at drawing attention to WHO's initiatives and projects. There are currently five Goodwill Ambassadors (Jet Li, Nancy Brinker, Peng Liyuan, Yohei Sasakawa and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) and a further ambassador associated with a partnership project (Craig David).[109]

Country and liaison offices

The World Health Organization operates 150 country offices in six different regions.[110] It also operates several liaison offices, including those with the European Union, United Nations and a single office covering the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. It also operates the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, and the WHO Centre for Health Development in Kobe, Japan.[111] Additional offices include those in Pristina; the West Bank and Gaza; the US-Mexico Border Field Office in El Paso; the Office of the Caribbean Program Coordination in Barbados; and the Northern Micronesia office.[112] 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). As of 2010, the only WHO Representative outside Europe to be a national of that country was for the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya ("Libya"); all other staff were international. WHO Representatives in the Region termed the Americas are referred to as PAHO/WHO Representatives. In Europe, WHO Representatives also serve as Head of Country Office, and are nationals with the exception of Serbia; there are also Heads of Country Office in Albania, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.[112] The WR is member of the UN system country team which is coordinated by the UN System Resident Coordinator.

The country office consists of the WR, and several health and other experts, both foreign and local, as well as the necessary support staff.[110] The main functions of WHO country offices include being the primary adviser of that country's government in matters of health and pharmaceutical policies.[113]

Financing and partnerships

The WHO is financed by contributions from member states and outside donors. As of 2012, the largest annual assessed contributions from member states came from the United States ($110 million), Japan ($58 million), Germany ($37 million), United Kingdom ($31 million) and France ($31 million).[114] The combined 2012–2013 budget has proposed a total expenditure of $3,959 million, of which $944 million (24%) will come from assessed contributions. This represented a significant fall in outlay compared to the previous 2009–2010 budget, adjusting to take account of previous underspends. Assessed contributions were kept the same. Voluntary contributions will account for $3,015 million (76%), of which $800 million is regarded as highly or moderately flexible funding, with the remainder tied to particular programmes or objectives.[115]

In recent years, the WHO's work has involved increasing collaboration with external bodies.[116] As of 2002, a total of 473 non-governmental organizations (NGO) had some form of partnership with WHO. There were 189 partnerships with international NGOs in formal "official relations" – the rest being considered informal in character.[117] Partners include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation[118] and the Rockefeller Foundation.[119]


IAEA – Agreement WHA 12–40

Alexey Yablokov (left) and Vassili Nesterenko (farthest right) protesting in front of the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland in 2008.
Demonstration on Chernobyl disaster day near WHO in Geneva

In 1959, the WHO signed Agreement WHA 12–40 with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A selective reading of this document (clause 3) can result in the understanding that the IAEA is able to prevent the WHO from conducting research or work on some areas, as seen hereafter. The agreement states here that the WHO recognizes the IAEA as having responsibility for peaceful nuclear energy without prejudice to the roles of the WHO of promoting health. However, the following paragraph adds:[120]

The nature of this statement has led some pressure groups and activists (including Women in Europe for a Common Future) to claim that the WHO is restricted in its ability to investigate the effects on human health of radiation caused by the use of nuclear power and the continuing effects of nuclear disasters in Chernobyl and Fukushima. They believe WHO must regain what they see as "independence".[120][121][122] However as pointed out by Foreman[123] in clause 2 it states:

Clearly suggesting that the WHO is free to do as it sees fit on nuclear, radiation and other matters which relate to health.

Roman Catholic Church and AIDS

In 2003, the WHO denounced the Roman Curia's health department's opposition to the use of condoms, saying: "These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million."[124] As of 2009, the Catholic Church remains opposed to increasing the use of contraception to combat HIV/AIDS.[125] At the time, the World Health Assembly President, Guyana's Health Minister Leslie Ramsammy, has condemned Pope Benedict's opposition to contraception, saying he was trying to "create confusion" and "impede" proven strategies in the battle against the disease.[126]

Intermittent preventive therapy

The aggressive support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for intermittent preventive therapy of malaria triggered a memo from the former WHO malaria chief Akira Kochi.[127]

Diet and sugar intake

Some of the research undertaken or supported by WHO to determine how people's lifestyles and environments are influencing whether they live in better or worse health can be controversial, as illustrated by a 2003 joint WHO/FAO report on nutrition and the prevention of chronic non-communicable disease,[128] which recommended that free sugars should form no more than 10% of a healthy diet. The report led to lobbying by the sugar industry against the recommendation, to which the WHO/FAO responded by including the following statement in the report: "The Consultation recognized that a population goal for free sugars of less than 10% of total energy is controversial". It also stood by its recommendation based upon its own analysis of scientific studies.[129] In 2014, WHO reduced recommended free sugars levels by half and said that free sugars should make up no more than 5% of a healthy diet.[130]

2009 swine flu pandemic

In 2007, the WHO organized work on pandemic influenza vaccine development through clinical trials in collaboration with many experts and health officials.[131] A pandemic involving the H1N1 influenza virus was declared by the then Director-General Margaret Chan in April 2009.[132] Margret Chan declared in 2010 that the H1N1 has moved into the post-pandemic period.[133]

By the post-pandemic period critics claimed the WHO had exaggerated the danger, spreading "fear and confusion" rather than "immediate information".[134] Industry experts countered that the 2009 pandemic had led to "unprecedented collaboration between global health authorities, scientists and manufacturers, resulting in the most comprehensive pandemic response ever undertaken, with a number of vaccines approved for use three months after the pandemic declaration. This response was only possible because of the extensive preparations undertaken during the last decade".[135]

2013–2016 Ebola outbreak and reform efforts

Following the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the organization was heavily criticized for its bureaucracy, insufficient financing, regional structure, and staffing profile.[136]

An internal WHO report on the Ebola response pointed to underfunding and the lack of "core capacity" in health systems in developing countries as the primary weaknesses of the existing system. At the annual World Health Assembly in 2015, Director-General Margaret Chan announced a $100 million Contingency Fund for rapid response to future emergencies,[137][138] of which it had received $26.9 million by April 2016 (for 2017 disbursement). WHO has budgeted an additional $494 million for its Health Emergencies Programme in 2016–17, for which it had received $140 million by April 2016.[139]

The program was aimed at rebuilding WHO capacity for direct action, which critics said had been lost due to budget cuts in the previous decade that had left the organization in an advisory role dependent on member states for on-the-ground activities. In comparison, billions of dollars have been spent by developed countries on the 2013–2016 Ebola epidemic and 2015–16 Zika epidemic.[140]

FCTC implementation database

The WHO has a Framework Convention on Tobacco implementation database which is one of the only mechanisms to help enforce compliance with the FCTC.[141] However, there have been reports of numerous discrepancies between it and national implementation reports on which it was built. As researchers Hoffman and Rizvi report "As of July 4, 2012, 361 (32·7%) of 1104 countries' responses were misreported: 33 (3·0%) were clear errors (eg, database indicated “yes” when report indicated “no”), 270 (24·5%) were missing despite countries having submitted responses, and 58 (5·3%) were, in our opinion, misinterpreted by WHO staff".[142]

IARC controversies

The World Health Organization sub-department, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), has been criticized for the way it analyses the tendency of certain substances and activities to cause cancer and for having a politically motivated bias when it selects studies for its analysis. Ed Yong, a British science journalist, has criticized the agency and its "confusing" category system for misleading the public.[143] Marcel Kuntz, a French director of research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, criticized the agency for its classification of potentially carcinogenic substances. He claimed that this classification did not take into account the extent of exposure: for example, red meat is qualified as probably carcinogenic, but the quantity of consumed red meat at which it could become dangerous is not specified.[144]

Controversies have erupted multiple times when the IARC has classified many things as Class 2a (probable carcinogens), including cell phone signals, glyphosate, drinking hot beverages, and working as a barber.[145]

Block of Taiwanese participation

Political pressure from China has led to Taiwan being barred from membership of the WHO and other UN-affiliated organizations, and in both 2017 and 2018 the WHO refused to allow Taiwanese delegates to attend the WHO annual assembly.[146] On multiple occasions Taiwanese journalists have been denied access to report on the assembly.[147]

In May 2018, 172 members of the United States House of Representatives wrote to the Director General of the World Health Organization to argue for Taiwan's inclusion as an observer at the WHA.[148]

Travel expenses

According to The Associated Press, the WHO routinely spends about $200 million a year on travel expenses, more than it spends to tackle mental health problems, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria combined. In 2016, Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO from November 2006 to June 2017,[149] stayed in a $1000 per night hotel room while visiting West Africa.[150]

Robert Mugabe's role as a goodwill ambassador

On 21 October 2017, the Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appointed former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador to help promote the fight against non-communicable diseases. The appointment address praised Mugabe for his commitment to public health in Zimbabwe.

The appointment attracted widespread condemnation and criticism in WHO member states and international organizations due to Robert Mugabe's poor record on human rights and presiding over a decline in Zimbabwe's public health.[151][152] Due to the outcry, the following day the appointment was revoked.[153]

World headquarters

The seat of the organization is in Geneva, Switzerland. It was designed by Swiss architect Jean Tschumi and inaugurated in 1966.[154] In 2017, the organization launched an international competition to redesign and extend its headquarters.[155]

Early views

Views 2013

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