World Health Organization (WHO)

World Health Organization (WHO)


The World Health Organization (WHO) is the principal international organization managing public health-related issues on a global scale. Headquartered in Geneva, the WHO is comprised of 191 member states (e.g., countries) from around the globe. The organization contributes to international public health in areas including disease prevention and control, promotion of good health, addressing disease outbreaks, initiatives to eliminate diseases (e.g., vaccination programs), and development of treatment and prevention standards.

In 2003, WHO began to coordinate global efforts to monitor the outbreak of the virus responsible for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). WHO officials also directed aspects of research efforts to identify the specific virus responsible. In addition, WHO officials issued specific recommendations with regard to isolation and quarantine policy and issued alerts for travelers.

Just after the end of World War I, the League of Nations was created to promote peace and security in the aftermath of the war. One of the mandates of the League of Nations was the prevention and control of disease around the world. The Health Organization of the League of Nations was established for this purpose, and was headquartered in Geneva. In 1945, the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco approved a motion put forth by Brazil and China to establish a new and independent international organization devoted to public health. The proposed organization was meant to unite the number of disparate health organizations that had been established in various countries around the world. The following year this resolution was formally enacted at the International Health Conference in New York, and the Constitution of the World Health organization was approved.

In its constitution, WHO defines health as not merely the absence of disease. A definition that subsequently paved the way for WHO's involvement in the preventative aspects of disease.

From its inception, WHO has been involved in public health campaigns that focused on the improvement of sanitary conditions. In 1951, the Fourth World Health Assembly adopted a WHO document proposing new international sanitary regulations. Additionally, WHO mounted extensive vaccination campaigns against a number of diseases of microbial origin, including poliomyelitis, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, tuberculosis, and smallpox. The latter campaign has been extremely successful, with the last known natural case of smallpox having occurred in 1977. The elimination of poliomyelitis is expected by the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Another noteworthy initiative of WHO has been the Global Program on AIDS, which was launched in 1987. The participation of WHO and agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is necessary to adequately address AIDS, because the disease is prevalent in under-developed countries where access to medical care and health promotion is limited.

Today, WHO is structured as eight divisions addressing communicable diseases, noncommunicable diseases and mental health, family and community health, sustainable development and health environments, health technology and pharmaceuticals, and policy development. These divisions support the four pillars of WHO: worldwide guidance in health, worldwide development of improved standards of health, cooperation with governments in strengthening national health programs, and, development of improved health technologies, information, and standards.



World Health Organization. May, 2003.< > (May 10, 2003).


CDC (United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Public Health Service (PHS), United States

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