The History of World Health Day and How It Has Changed the World

 

April 7 is day that’s well remembered each year by many health-related organizations and advocacy groups around the world. On this day, everyone celebrates World Health Day, and it has become an inspirational reminder of the various causes that it champions each year based on the various topics that’s listed in the World Health Organization’s agenda.

World Health Day has many brought positive changes since its inception. But how is it that this yearly event can move so many people every year? From what humble beginnings did this yearly celebration come from?

How It All Started

The very first World Health Day did not take place on the 7th of April, the date it is celebrated on annually now. Instead, it occurred on the 22nd of July in 1949, an equally historic date – just 3 years before on that same day in 1946. On that day, 61 nations signed the charter of the World Health Organization in New York. According to the first Director-General of the World Health Organization, Brock Chisholm, these events were held in order to encourage public interest in and support of the aims of the Organization.

Individual governments were charged with organizing events in their own countries: New Zealand held a range of national and local events that were organized by branches of its United Nations Association. Other countries organized radio and cinema broadcasts as well as concerts and press releases, such as in the cases of Ireland, Turkey, Austria, Italy and South Africa. In Geneva, the WHO headquarters distributed information about the organization’s early success in fighting diseases like malaria in Greece and Italy, providing vaccines to protect against tuberculosis in India, and the organization’s response to a typhus epidemic in Afghanistan.

However, some countries felt that there hadn’t been enough time to properly prepare activities, while others still pointed out that holding the celebration on a day when most school children would be on holiday would severely limit its impact.

As a result of this, World Health Day was instead celebrated on April 7th of the following year, marking the commemoration of the day when the WHO constitution officially came into force.

Themes throughout the Years

World Health Day themes vary from year to year – in 1991, the World Health Organization placed emphasis on disaster preparedness while the focus was on heart and cardiovascular health the following year. Below are some of the more notable themes that the World Health Organization has tackled with World Health Day over the years, bringing awareness to specific health issues.

Here are just some of the more prominent ones that have been highlighted since the turn of the century.

2001: Mental health: stop exclusion, dare to care

In 2001, World Health Day shone a spotlight on mental health and strived to influence public opinion and discourse on how to improve the current condition of mental health patients around the world. The stigma of suffering from a mental health disease not only facilitates exclusion and alienation of individuals plagued with it, it also perpetuates false stereotypes and myths. By opening lines of communication, WHO hoped to lessen the stigma and misinformation that usually surrounds mental health issues.

2006: Working together for health

2006’s World Health Day focused on the health workforce crisis, a phenomenon in which there was a chronic shortage of health workers around the world. This was due to a lack of support in their training, education, management and working environment. It also celebrated valiant healthcare workers, which are the heart of the health system.

2008: Protecting one’s health from the effects of climate change

WHO turned its sights towards the threat of climate change and how it affects health and health systems around the world. Climate change poses an ever growing threat to public health security, as many of the leading killer diseases are sensitive to climatic conditions. This means that extreme changes in weather patterns affects both their incidence and spread. By publicizing the effects of climate change in not only the environment and health but also in food, energy and transport, World Health Day 2008 hoped to alert people to the potential dangers, as well as encourage everyone to make a more concentrated effort to mitigate these effects and stabilize climate change.

2014: Small bite, Big threat

World Health Day 2014 focused on diseases and pathogens spread via vectors such as mosquitoes, sandflies, and other insects. Malaria is one such disease, spread via mosquitoes, that still causes up to 660,000 deaths each year. The goal for 2014 was to spread information in order to achieve better protection from vector-borne illnesses, especially among those living in areas where these diseases are most common, as well as travelers to countries where they are a health threat.

2017: Depression: Let’s Talk

Mental health has been a growing concern over the years and depression came into focus during this year’s event. It’s a condition that can affect people of different ages and various walks of life. Its effects can be subtle at first, but it can have a huge impact on a person’s productivity, mental health, and social interactions. Severe cases of depression can lead to self-inflicted injuries and even suicide. It was important for this event to discuss the effects of depression and how to better understand it. This way, people who are suffering from it can get the help that they need to work through their depression.

2019: Universal Health for Everyone, Everywhere

This year’s theme recognizes that health care is a right that everyone should have. Millions of people around the world live in unfortunate circumstances where they have no access to health care whatsoever. For conditions like this to change, it’s important for there to be sweeping changes that need to be done on an organizational level to allow people access to primary health care services and information in their area.

The Role of WHO in World Health Day

As the major sponsor and proponent of World Health Day, the World Health Organization selects the theme of each year’s event. The yearly theme is typically based off the six point agenda from one of the following topics:

  • Health and Development – looks at the ties between health and socio-economic standing, and works to address health risks by enacting intersectoral work that improves people’s quality of life
  • Health and Security – reduce possible health risks due to outbreaks of either old or new diseases, as well as provide assistance to countries that are struggling with their existing mass casualty management systems
  • Health Systems –
  • Information and Knowledge
  • Partnerships
  • Performance

Each theme is usually accompanied by a worldwide campaign that aims to spread awareness of health issues, policies, and the key messages tied to it. The WHO website offers its campaign materials for free and includes detailed communication materials that can be printed or shared across various mediums.

It also includes calls to action to specific groups that can help push the advocacy—including groups like policy makers who can help pass certain health bills to health workers who can be empowered to raise the level of service in their industry. Depending on which industry you work in or what circle of influence that you have, WHO has a list of suggestions on how you can help enact change.

The general public can also help spread awareness of this campaign in a variety of ways. People are free to sign up for any of the online petitions found on the website. These petitions are usually forwarded to the next United Nations General Assembly that happens during the same year. This is perhaps one of the easiest ways for people to add their voice to the goal that each campaign aims to fulfill.

World Health Day’s Contributions towards Positive Change

Social media these days has played a vital role in sharing the theme of each year’s World Health Day. This is arguably one of the biggest channels of spreading awareness in modern times. WHO leverages this by using a specific hashtag that can be shared through the different social media channels. This year’s hashtag is #HealthForAll, as well as the generic #WorldHealthDay.

WHO, through the yearly World Health Day campaigns, encourages people to always get involved and even lead their own campaigns that are in line with the yearly theme. Those who are active members of the World Health Organization even setup solidarity chain rallies, where thousands of participants join hands as a symbol of collaboration and togetherness that work towards a common goal.

In the end, the most notable way that World Health Day has pushed for change year after year is by simply spreading awareness and by continually displaying a strong show of support for each of its advocacies. This kind of support serves as an inspiration for people around the world who share in this vision for change.

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