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Encyclopedia > World Health Organisation
For other meanings of the acronym 'WHO', see WHO (disambiguation)
WHO flag

Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Health Organization (WHO) is an agency of the United Nations, acting as a coordinating authority on international public health. WHO was established by the UN on April 7, 1948. The current Director General is LEE Jong-wook. The WHO inherited much of the mandate and resources of its predecessor, the Health Organisation (HO), which had been an agency of the League of Nations.



The WHO's major task is to combat disease, especially key infectious diseases. As well as coordinating international efforts to monitor outbreaks of infectious disease such as SARS, malaria, and AIDS, it also has programmes to combat such diseases, by developing and distributing vaccines. After years of fighting smallpox, WHO declared in 1979 that the disease had been eradicated - the first disease in history to be completely eliminated by deliberate human design. WHO is nearing success in developing vaccines against malaria and schistosomiasis and aims to eradicate polio within the next few years.

The constitution of WHO defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not consisting only of the absence of disease or infirmity. In addition to its work in eradicating disease, the WHO also carries out campaigns — for example, to boost consumption of vegetables worldwide, or to discourage tobacco consumption – and conducts research: for instance, into whether or not the electromagnetic field surrounding cell phones has a negative influence on health. Some of this work can be controversial, such as the April 2003 WHO report which recommended that sugar be no more than 10% of a healthy diet, which led to lobbying by the sugar industry against this recomendation [1] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,940287,00.html).


WHO Headquarters in Geneva
Copyright: WHO/Pierre Virot

WHO member states [2] (http://www.who.int/countries/en/) appoint delegations to the World Health Assembly, WHO's supreme decision-making body. The Assembly generally meets in May each year, and as well as appointing the Director-General (for five-year terms), supervises the financial policies of the Organization, and reviews and approves the proposed programme budget. The Assembly elects 32 technically qualified persons for three-year terms to an Executive Board. The main functions of the Board are to give effect to the decisions and policies of the Assembly, to advise it and generally to facilitate its work.


All UN Member States with the exception of Liechtenstein have joined the WHO. Territories that are not UN Member states may join as associated members (with full information but limited participation and voting rights) if approved by an Assembly vote. Examples include New Zealand's self-governing entities of Cook Islands and Niue. Entities may also be granted observer status - examples include the PLO and the Vatican. Taiwan is campaigning for observer status, against the opposition of China which is already a WHO member and sees Taiwan as part of China.


The day-to-day work of WHO is carried out by its Secretariat, which is staffed by some 11,000 health and other experts and support staff, working at headquarters, in the six regional offices, and in countries.


As a UN agency, the WHO is financed through the UN system by contributions from member states. In recent years, the WHO's work has involved more collaboration with NGOs and the pharmaceutical industry, as well as with foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Some of these collaborations may be considered public-private partnerships [3] (http://www.who.int/tdr/publications/publications/pdf/partnerships.pdf); half the WHO budget is financed by private foundations and industry.

Directors-General of the WHO

Name Country Term of Office
Brock Chisholm Canada 19481953
Marcolino Gomes Candau Brazil 19531973
Halfdan T. Mahler Denmark 19731988
Hiroshi Nakajima Japan 19881998
Gro Harlem Brundtland Norway 19982003
Lee Jong-wook South Korea 2003
  • Former Directors General (http://www.who.int/archives/who50/en/directors.htm)

Other notable persons associated with the WHO

External links

  • World Health Organization (http://www.who.int)

  Results from FactBites:
WHO | World Health Organization (146 words)
17 October 2007 -- In mid-September, the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) confirmed an outbreak of Ebola haemorrhagic fever in some remote communities in the province of Kasai Occidental.
A team of experts from the ministry and WHO, along with partner organizations, launched a disease control campaign.
WHO Constitution, and Executive Board and World Health Assembly documents
  More results at FactBites »



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