The 7th of April 2023 marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the World Health Organization (WHO), an occasion that has been celebrated annually as World Health Day since its inception. In 1948, the WHO was founded by countries across the globe. Their objective was promoting healthcare, safeguarding international security, and serving the needs of vulnerable populations.
As the WHO reaches this significant milestone, the organization has taken the opportunity to reflect on its journey over the past seventy-five years. Additionally, the WHO aims to inspire actions that address current and future health challenges.
This year’s World Health Day slogan is “Health For All”.
Foundation of the World Health Organization
During the San Francisco conference to establish the United Nations (UN) in April 1945, representatives from Brazil and China made a proposal to create an international organization dedicated to healthcare. They also suggested convening a conference to develop the organization’s Constitution. Following this proposal, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Constitution was signed on July 22, 1946, by representatives of 51 UN member states and 10 other countries.
However, the WHO’s Constitution did not become effective until April 7, 1948, when it was ratified by at least 26 UN members. This minimum threshold was necessary for the charter to take effect.
WHO’s work for public health
Today, the WHO plays a critical role in coordinating global efforts to promote public health, combat disease outbreaks, and support healthcare systems around the world.
Thanks to the diligent efforts of the WHO in 1980, smallpox – one of humanity’s deadliest diseases – was eradicated from the face of the earth. Over the course of thousands of years, it claimed the lives of hundreds of millions, with every third infected person succumbing within a mere two weeks. Those who survived often faced the harrowing aftermath of severe complications, including blindness, infertility, and disfiguring scars. Until now, smallpox remains the only disease to have been eradicated thanks to vaccination.
Following the inception of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, instances of wild poliovirus have plummeted by over 99% since 1988. From over 350,000 cases reported across 125 endemic countries, merely six were registered in 2021. Among the three distinct strains of wild poliovirus (types 1, 2, and 3), wild poliovirus type 2 was eradicated in 1999, and wild poliovirus type 3 was eradicated in 2020. However, as of 2022, wild poliovirus type 1 persists in two countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Presently, various international immunization programs are actively operating to provide vaccines primarily to children and the most vulnerable demographics. Thanks to immunizations administered before two years of age over the last decade, child mortality rates have been significantly reduced – almost halved.
Notably, World Immunization Week is annually commemorated during the last week of April.
Counteracting noncommunicable diseases
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are a serious public health concern, with cardiovascular diseases (heart attacks and strokes), cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and diabetes being the four most prevalent conditions. These diseases share common risk factors that are preventable by adopting healthy lifestyle habits. Among them are avoiding tobacco use, moderating alcohol consumption, eating a nutritious diet, and engaging in physical activity.
When WHO first released the Global Strategy for Noncommunicable Diseases in 1999, it was estimated that these conditions accounted for nearly 60% (31 million) of deaths worldwide. Unfortunately, the number has since risen to a staggering 41 million people, equating to 74% of all global deaths. Moreover, a significant proportion of these deaths occur in low- to middle-income countries.
To address this growing problem, the WHO is working closely with governments worldwide to develop effective prevention and control strategies. The most recent plan is the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs for 2013-2020, which outlines a comprehensive and systematic approach. This step-by-step plan includes initiatives such as raising awareness about healthy lifestyle habits, investing in government-led public health programs, early diagnosis, and palliative care.
Children and maternity care
WHO has always placed the utmost importance on safeguarding the health of children, ensuring the safety of pregnancies and childbirth. Their primary focus includes:
- Preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS;
- Spreading awareness about contraception and barrier methods, such as condoms, in low-income countries with high rates of STIs;
- Reducing infant mortality and stillbirths;
- Launching a global program to promote the health of mothers, children, and adolescents.
Additionally, WHO addresses all public health issues that arise in our busy lives. It includes new viruses, the recent COVID-19 pandemic, wars, poverty, and others.
Prevention, access to medical services, timely treatment, and understanding one’s body are crucial for maintaining good health.
This is why our school motto is, “A happy woman is healthy and educated!”
Remember to prioritize your health at all times.