On 7th April 1948, the United Nations established its specialist agency for health, the appropriately named World Health Organization (WHO for short). Its objective, laid down in the organisation’s constitution, is ‘the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health’.
The organisation’s definition of health is positive rather than negative. That is, it just not see health as being the absence of disease of infirmity, but rather as when an individual (or increasingly a social group) is in ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being’.
The WHO does this by working across the world’s rehions and nation states, studying health issues and develooing strategies to combat disease and propmote well-being and health. A further immportant element of the World Health Organization’s work lies in the promotion of better communication between nations and important NGOs (non-governmental organsations) and the development of capacity in the fight against ill-health. The WHO develops approppriate standards in teh area of health and well-being and engages in campaignsto assist the dissemination of information in this crucial area.
The WHO is currently engaged with its ‘Eleventh General Programme of Work’, entitled “Engaging for health”. This will run from 2006-2015 and has a seven-point global health agenda, the seven points being:
1. investing in health to reduce poverty
2. building individual and global health security
3. promoting universal coverage, gender equality and health-related human rights
4. tackling the determinants of health
5. strengthening health systems and equitable access
6. harnessing knowledge, science and technology
7. strengthening governance, leadership and accountability.
One of its current priories is monitoring and coordinating the fight against Avian Flu, and in the past the agency has seen its action lead to the eradication of smallpox and the almost virtual eradication of polio. It currently leads the fight against malaria, one of the biggest killers in the developing world.
The World Health Organization is behind the annual World Health Day held each year on April 7th. In 2012, the focus will be on Ageing and Health because, as the WHO website explains, ‘Over the past century life expectancy has increased dramatically and the world will soon have more older people than children.’
The ssue is important and urgen becasuse, ‘ageing populations occur everywhere, but less-developed countries are witnessing the fastest change. This social transformation represents both challenges and opportunities. In particular, countries may only have a single generation to prepare their health and social systems for an ageing world.’
Overall, the World Health Organization has been a great success and shows how effective international collaboration can be when it pursues an objective in which nations each have the same interest.