Whenever I talk about the WHO – most think of the 1960’s rock band. But the WHO I refer to is the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency responsible for leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards for health, articulating evidence-based policy options to improve health, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.
Established in 1948, the WHO’s objectives are stated in its Constitution as “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.” Clarifying health as a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
I have a feeling most are unfamiliar with the WHO’s advocacy for the right to health and the organization’s impact around the world. The WHO sends response teams to contain outbreaks, gives emergency assistance to people affected by disasters, and runs mass immunization campaigns that protect the world’s children from killer diseases. The WHO addresses several diseases but most visibly, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria – having eradicated smallpox and working to eradicate polio. And the WHO charts trends in world health, such as following the sharp rise of chronic diseases in all countries.
Some alarming statistics provided by the WHO:
- global deaths from chronic diseases are expected to rise 17% in the next 10 years (diseases that affect the poor as much as the wealthy; diseases that affect all ages)
- more than half a million women die each year from pregnancy complications
- about 11 million children under five die every year
- this year, five million people will be newly infected with HIV and more than three million people will die of HIV/AIDS-related illnesses.
- malaria kills more than one million people a year – most of them children
under five in Africa. In fact, on average a child in Africa dies every 30 seconds from a malaria infection caused by the bite of a mosquito
The WHO works tirelessly to change these statistics. And to accomplish change, the WHO promotes primary health care for all, provision of nutritious food, ensuring safe and potable water, and access to essential drugs.
So many other organizations have combined alongside the WHO, fighting to combat disease, poverty, hunger, and political barriers. I can’t list them all here but below are a few prominent organizations:
- Amnesty International
- Human Rights Watch
- International Committee of the Red Cross
- The Center for Economic and Social Rights
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
- The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria
- Doctors Without Borders (Medicins Sans Frontieres)
- Harvard School of Public Health: Program on International Health and Human Rights (research in the field of health and human rights, developing health and human rights tools for analysis, programmatic intervention, monitoring and evaluation)
May we all think about doing our part to support the WHO’s endeavors and these organizations that ensure each one of us around the world are afforded health, a human right.