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Definition of «World Health Organization»

World Health Organization: An agency of the United Nations established in 1948 to further international cooperation in improving health conditions. Although the World Health Organization inherited specific tasks relating to epidemic control, quarantine measures, and drug standardization from the Health Organization of the League of Nations (that was set up in 1923) and from the International Office of Public Health at Paris (established in 1909), the World Health Organization was given a broad mandate under its constitution to promote the attainment of "the highest possible level of health" by all people. WHO defines health positively as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

The World Health Organization is abbreviated and commonly referred to as WHO. (In French, another official language at the UN, it is OMS which stands for Organisation Mondiale de la Sante.)

WHO has administrative headquarters in Geneva. It operates through three principal organs: the World Health Assembly, which meets annually as the general policy-making body; an Executive Board of health specialists elected for three-year terms by the assembly; and a Secretariat, which has regional offices and field staff throughout the world. The organization is financed primarily from annual contributions made by member governments on the basis of relative ability to pay. In addition, after 1951, WHO was allocated substantial resources from the expanded technical-assistance program of the UN.

The work of WHO may be divided into three categories:

  1. Health Information: WHO provides a central clearinghouse and research 3services. It established a codified set of international sanitary regulations, for example, designed to standardize quarantine measures without interfering unnecessarily with trade and air travel across national boundaries. The central WHO Secretariat also keeps member countries informed of the latest developments in the use of vaccines, cancer research, nutritional discoveries, control of drug addiction, and health hazards of nuclear radiation.
  2. Disease Control: WHO sponsors measures for the control of epidemic and endemic disease by promoting mass campaigns involving nationwide vaccination programs, instruction in the use of antibiotics and insecticides, the improvement of laboratory and clinical facilities for early diagnosis and prevention, assistance in providing pure-water supplies and sanitation systems, and health education for people living in rural communities. These campaigns have had some success against tuberculosis, malaria, and venereal disease. There has also been considerable progress against cholera, trachoma, yellow fever, and yaws. In May 1980 smallpox was globally eradicated, a feat due largely to the efforts of WHO.
  3. Consultation and Education: WHO encourages efforts to strengthen and expand the public health administrations of member nations. The organization, on request, provides technical advice to governments in the preparation of long-term national health plans, sends out international teams of experts to conduct field surveys and demonstration projects, helps set up local health centres, and offers aid in the development of national training institutions for medical and nursing personnel. It also makes teachers available for on-the-spot training, and it grants traveling-fellowship awards to doctors, public-health administrators, nurses, sanitary inspectors, and laboratory technicians.

In 2003 WHO came under the searchlight of the global media with its role in coordinating the international efforts designed to deal with the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). In this context it was again clear that WHO is indispensable to health on this earth.

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