The History of WHO and How It Has Changed the World

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When it comes to organizations that have truly made an impact in the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) can be considered as one of the most worthy of the title. This particular arm of the United Nations is responsible for leading many efforts and movements to improve the health of the entirety of world’s population, especially those in developing countries and impoverished, war-torn regions.

What’s more, they are largely responsible for the many recommended dietary and medical standards adhered to all over the world, with all of them made for the benefit of keeping people living healthier and longer lives. As such, it can easily be seen that the World Health Organization has contributed massively to the betterment of mankind.

With that said, not many know of WHO, especially when it comes to its major accomplishments and world-changing movements. Fewer still know about its history and origins, which dates back as far as 1851, when deadly diseases such as cholera and the bubonic plague were still considered as serious threats.

As such, this article aims to raise awareness about WHO, in the hopes of not only informing the public about this particular philanthropic organization but also to encourage individuals, institutions, and governments to support its many efforts. We will also be including how you as a reader can contribute in your own way when it comes to spreading the word about WHO.

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The Origins of the World Health Organization

The World Health Organization as we know it originated from the International Sanitary Conferences, a series of conferences that began in 1851 and ended in 1938. These conferences were held as a way to organize a worldwide effort to combat many serious and fatal diseases, with the major ones being cholera, yellow fever, and the bubonic plague.

As well-funded and well-staffed as these conferences were, they were largely ineffective in their goals to combat these diseases until the seventh conference in 1892, whereupon an International Sanitary Convention that was designed to deal with cholera was finally passed. It would be five years later when the same would be done for the bubonic plague.

The success of these conferences and those that would come later would then result in the creation of major international health agencies such as the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau and the Office International d’Hygiene Publique. It would be after the second world war that the freshly reformed United Nations would absorb all other health organizations and consolidate them into one single agency—the World Health Organization.

Its Establishment, First Acts, and Ongoing Focus

The World Health Organization was formally established on the 22nd of July, 1946. The impetus was started when Chinese delegate Szeming Sze discussed with Norwegian and Brazilian delegates on creating an international health organization, one that would be established under the watchful eye of the newly-minted United Nations. However, the proposal failed to get a resolution. It was here that the Secretary General of the conference, Alger Hiss, recommended that a declaration be used instead. Sze and his like-minded colleagues acted upon this recommendation and soon after a declaration calling for an international conference of health was quickly passed.

Things fell into place once this declaration was made, with the constitution bringing the WHO into fruition being signed by all 51 countries of the United Nations as well as 10 other countries. It was also officially ratified on the first World Health Day on the 7th of April 1948. Its first meeting, which finished on July 24, 1948, was able to secure a budget of US$5 million for the next year. With Andrija Stampar as the first president of the assembly and G. Brock Chisholm as the appointed Director-General, WHO began its work by prioritizing the control and treatment of malaria, tuberculosis, and sexually-transmitted infections. It also strove for the improvement of maternal and child health, as well as nutrition and environmental hygiene.

For its first legislative act, the World Health Organization compiled accurate statistics on the spread and morbidity of disease. This act would be the first of many that would revolutionize the understanding of many different diseases, how they spread, and how to combat them.

Throughout the years, WHO’s focus on public health would remain consistent, and it has centered on the following areas:

  • The diagnosis, treatment, and eradication of communicable diseases
  • The prevention, reduction, and treatment of non-communicable diseases
  • The improvement of environmental health
  • The reduction of health risks and threats to peoples’ life course and lifestyle
  • The improvement of surgery and trauma care
  • The coordination and efficient distribution of emergency rescue efforts in the event of natural or man-made disasters
  • To provide advisement and data for regional health policy creation guidance

 

Operational History Highlights

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The World Health Organization’s driving rationale of improving the health of the global population saw it being key to many notable historical events and milestones throughout the years. Here are some of the more noteworthy ones:

  • 1947: WHO established an epidemiological information service through telex, a then advanced network of telecommunications involving public switched teleprinters. This was a major factor in fueling a tuberculosis inoculation drive using the BCG vaccine in the 1950s.
  • 1955: WHO launched the Malaria eradication programme.
  • 1958: During the World Health Assembly, Deputy Minister of Health for the USSR Viktor Zhdanov called on the WHO to undertake a global initiative to eradicate smallpox. This resulted in Resolution WHA11.54.
  • 1965: WHO saw to the publishing of the first report on diabetes mellitus, as well as the creation of the International Agency for Research on cancer.
  • 1967: WHO increased efforts to eradicate smallpox worldwide by contributing US$2.4 million annually in research efforts. This year also saw WHO launching the Special Programme for Research and Training in Topical Diseases.
  • 1974: The Expanded Programme on Immunization, as well as the control programme of the disease known as River Blindness or Onchocerciasis was launched.
  • 1977: WHO released the very first version of the Essential Medicines list, which features what is considered as medicine that satisfy the priority health care needs of the population. The medications on this list are mandated to be available to people at all times and in adequate amounts.
  • 1979: WHO declared that smallpox has been eradicated, mainly due to its twenty years of intensified combating and treatment efforts.
  • 1986: The World Health Organization launched its global initiative on HIV/AIDS.
  • 1988: WHO also launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
  • 1998: WHO’s Director-General proclaimed key gains were made in child survival, reduced infant mortality, increased life expectancy, and continued eradication of serious diseases such as smallpox and polio.
  • 2000: The Stop TB Partnership, a worldwide initiative to stem the development of new Tuberculosis cases, was formed by WHO.
  • 2001: The measles initiative was started by WHO. This would go on to reduce global deaths from measles by 68% six years later.
  • 2002: WHO launched efforts to improve the resources available to combat AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. This was in response to a lack of funding and global resources.
  • 2006: WHO endorsed the world’s first official HIV/AIDS toolkit for Zimbabwe, a hotspot in the ongoing AIDS pandemic. This kit would form the basis for the global prevention and treatment of the sexually-transmitted disease.

The WHO’s Ongoing Projects

Despite having led many movements and achievements in the healthcare and medicine sector, WHO continues to plan and execute projects aimed to improve the welfare of all. Some of these include the following:

  • Delivering climate-resilient water and sanitation in Africa and Asia, specifically Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, and Bangladesh
  • Building durable and climate-resilient hospitals and health facilities in the least-developed countries of Asia
  • Supporting and strengthening Mozambique’s response to health threats and risks that can arise through climate change
  • Supporting and strengthening the medical response of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to health threats and risks that can arise through climate change
  • Supporting and strengthening the medical response of the four least developed countries of the Pacific Islands, namely Kiribati, Tivalu, Solomon Islands and Vanutau, to health threats and risks that can arise through climate change
  • Supporting the development of effective plans that relate to the adaptation to climate change in the health sector, sanitation, and hygiene in low and low-middle income countries

How You Can Help the WHO

Looking at the history of WHO and the many awe-inspiring changes that it has enacted upon the world, it’s easy to feel that this organization has everything handled. However, there is still much WHO can do to expand its reach. While it’s true that WHO has risen to become a major player on the world stage, it still needs the support of the public to help convince governments to join its movements and follow its regulations. Here are the ways that you can contribute:

Hand out promotional materials informing the public about WHO’s initiatives

Help raise awareness about the WHO and its many efforts by spreading information amount them through the distribution of promotional materials, such as posters and flyers. You can also promote an advocacy using wearables such as lanyards or pins, so long as that advocacy is also tied to a WHO effort. Giving away these wearables for free will ensure that your chosen health advocacy is seen in public, with the recipients becoming walking advertisements.

Organize seminars or meetings about the WHO

If you are part of a school, workplace, or city government’s administration, then you can organize an event to talk and learn about WHO and its current initiatives. This will help inform people about WHO as well as clear up any misconceptions they may have about the organization. It may also convince some members of your audience to help out with WHO advocacies.

Volunteer or donate to WHO initiatives and advocacies in your area

If you know of any charities or organizations that are tied to WHO, then you can do your part in encouraging their success by either donating to them, or volunteering your time and energy. These organizations will almost always be operating with a clear lack of funds and labor, so your contribution will always be appreciated.

The World Health Organization is working for the betterment of all

WHO is one of the few truly good organizations in the world, making the improvement and betterment of life for all as its main driving goal. This can be clearly seen through its storied history of enacting major changes to the world—changes that saw deadly diseases being managed effectively or eradicated outright. As such, it deserves our attention and wholehearted support. See the above list for ways in which you can contribute to this organization’s efforts, and do your part in helping the world become a better place.

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