The Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) came into force on 7 April 1948. Since then, WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence- based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. In the 21st century, health is being considered a shared responsibility that involves equitable access to essential care and collective defence against transnational threats.
With the boundaries of public health action becoming blurred, WHO is increasingly operating in a complex and rapidly changing landscape that extends into other sectors that influence health opportunities and outcomes. WHO responds to these challenges using a six-point agenda that addresses two health objectives, two strategic needs, and two operational approaches. The six points in the agenda are promoting development; fostering health security; strengthening health systems; harnessing research, information and evidence; enhancing partnerships; and improving performance.
WHO’s agenda of health development is directed by the ethical principle of equity: Access to life-saving or health-promoting interventions should not be denied for unfair reasons, including those with economic or social roots. WHO activities aimed at health development give priority to health outcomes in poor, disadvantaged or vulnerable groups.
Its health and development agenda includes attainment of the health-related Millennium Development Goals, preventing and treating chronic diseases and addressing the neglected tropical diseases. It has fostered health security by strengthening the world’s ability to defend itself collectively against outbreaks by enforcing the revised International Health Regulations since June 2007.
Strengthening of health systems is a high priority for WHO and it ensures that health systems reach poor and underserved populations of the world. It addresses areas such as the provision of adequate numbers of appropriately trained staff, sufficient financing, suitable systems for collecting vital statistics, and access to appropriate technology including essential drugs. It generates authoritative health information, in consultation with leading experts, to set norms and standards, articulate evidence-based policy options and monitor the evolving global heath situation.
WHO carries out its work with the support and collaboration of many partners, including UN agencies and other international organizations, donors, civil society and the private sector. By using the strategic power of evidence, WHO encourages partners implementing programmes within countries to align their activities with best technical guidelines and practices, as well as with the priorities established by countries.
As a means of improving its performance, WHO participates in ongoing reforms aimed at improving its efficiency and effectiveness, both at the international level and within countries.
Entitled “Engaging for Health”, the 11th General Programme of Work provides the framework for organization-wide programme of work, budget, resources and results for the 10-year period from 2006 to 2015. The General Programme of Work sets out core functions of WHO as: 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; setting norms and standards and promoting and monitoring their implementation; articulating ethical and evidence-based policy options; providing technical support, catalyzing change, and building sustainable institutional capacity; and monitoring the health situation and assessing health trends.
WHO’s objective, as set out in its Constitution, is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. The Constitution defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well- being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. The World Health Assembly the supreme decision-making body for WHO meets each year in May in Geneva, and is attended by delegations from all 193 Member States. While the headquarters of WHO are in Geneva, Switzerland, it has six regional offices and 147 country offices in which more than 8000 people from more than 150 countries work.
In addition to medical doctors, public health specialists, scientists and epidemiologists, WHO staff include people trained to manage administrative, financial, and information systems, as well as experts in the fields of health statistics, economics and emergency relief.
To mark the founding of the World Health Organization, a “World Health Day” has been celebrated on the 7th of April annually since 1950. Each year a theme is selected for World Health Day that highlights a priority area of concern for WHO. The celebration is a worldwide opportunity to focus on key public health issues that affect the international community. On this day, WHO launches longer-term advocacy programmes that continue well beyond 7 April.
The themes adopted by WHO since 2001 were: mental health, move for health, shape the future of life, road safety, make every mother and child count, working together for health, international health security, protecting health from climate change, and make hospitals safe in emergencies.
World Health Day 2010 focuses on urbanization and health. The theme was selected in recognition of the effect urbanization has on our collective health globally and for us all individually. Some facts on urbanization, released by WHO are: over 3 billion people live in cities; In 2007, the world’s population living in cities surpassed 50 per cent for the first time in history; and by 2030, six out of every 10 people will be city dwellers, rising to seven out of every 10 people by 2050.
With the campaign “1000 cities 1000 lives”, WHO has given a call for a global movement to make cities healthier. Events are being organized worldwide calling on cities to open up streets for health activities. Stories of urban health champions are being gathered to illustrate what people are doing to improve health in their cities.
The global goal of the campaign is to open up public spaces to health, whether it be activities in parks, town hall meetings, clean-up campaigns, or closing off portions of streets to motorized vehicles in 1000 cities. Another goal is to collect 1000 stories of urban health champions who have taken action and had a significant impact on health in their cities.