Early Childhood Education

World Health Organisation (WHO)

 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is the international agency within the United Nations system responsible for health. WHO experts produce health guidelines and standards, and help countries address public health issues. WHO also supports and promotes health research. Through WHO, governments can jointly tackle global health problems and improve people’s well-being. WHO’s member comprises 192 countries and 2 associate members. They meet every year at the World Health Assembly in Geneva to set policy for the Organisation, approve the Organisation’s budget, and every five years, to appoint the Director-General. Their work is supported by the thirty-four-member Executive Board, which is elected by the Health Assembly. Six regional committees focus on health matters of a regional nature. WHO and its Member States work with many partners, including UN agencies, donors, nongovernmental organizations, WHO collaborating centers and the private sector. Only through new ways of working and innovative partnerships can we make a difference and achieve our goals. Last but not least, WHO is people. Almost 8,000 public health experts, including doctors, epidemiologists, scientists, managers, administrators, and other people from all over the world work for WHO in 147 country offices, six regional offices and at the headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The work of WHO affects the lives of every person on this planet, every day, from the food we eat and the water we drink, to the safety of the medications we take and the prevention and control of the diseases that threaten. No single country can solve the growing list of health challenges the world faces today. Infectious diseases such as SARS can circle the globe within weeks, moving at the speed of air travel. Health crises in distant countries become everyone’s concern as they contribute to poverty and conflict. At the same time, globalization is contributing to the huge gaps between people who have access to health care, and those who don’t. All countries must work together if we are to find solutions to these challenges. This is where WHO comes in.

 

WHO Priorities

Ensuring global health. One priority is to help ensure global health security by detecting emerging threats to health and managing them quickly. This is done by building a global network that helps to find a disease outbreak wherever it strikes, and rallying top experts to stop it fast. This is crucial in times of peace, and when people’s lives are thrown into the turmoil of conflict or natural disaster. People in more than forty countries are currently experiencing emergencies as a result of natural disasters, economic crises, or conflict—whether they are highly publicized, such as the Tsunami in South Asia, or hidden and forgotten, such as the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. WHO works in countries to help national authorities and communities to prepare by strengthening overall capacity to manage all types of crises; to respond by ensuring effective and timely action to address public health priorities; to recover by ensuring that local health systems are functioning; and to mitigate against the effects of crises on public health.

 

Reducing tobacco use and promoting healthy diet. Another priority is to reduce tobacco use and promote healthy diets and physical activity to speed up progress in the battle against chronic diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart disease and diabetes. Chronic disease cuts lives short, takes mothers and fathers away from their children, and costs economies billions of dollars. The good news is that people can largely prevent and control chronic disease by reducing three risks. WHO—together with countries, the private sector, civil society and others—is working on several key initiatives to stop the growing chronic disease epidemic.

 

Achieving millennium goals. A third priority is to build up efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals through programs to support countries in the fight against HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria; to improve the health and nutrition of children and women; and to increase people’s access to essential medicines. WHO works with countries to dramatically reduce the appalling rates of maternal and child deaths with technical advice and policy support. WHO is working to achieve global water and sanitation targets to ensure environmental sustainability, which is essential for improving people’s health. By developing a global partnership, WHO is working to ensure people have universal access to life-saving drugs including anti-retroviral therapy. Eradicating extreme poverty means addressing diseases that cripple workers, ravage families, and kill children before they can contribute to a better future.

 

Improving access to better health care. Finally, WHO strives for improvements in health care and fairer access in a world where life expectancy ranges from eighty- five years in Japan to just thirty-six years in Sierra Leone. Wherever they live, people need health services. In many countries, there is little money available to spend on health. This results in inadequate hospitals and clinics, a short supply of essential medicines and equipment, and a critical shortage of health workers. Worse, in some parts of the world, large numbers of health workers are dying from the very diseases that they are trying to prevent and treat. WHO works with countries to help them plan, educate and manage the health workforce, for example, by advising on policies to recruit and retain people working in health.

Throughout the world, poor and vulnerable people have less access to health care, and get sicker and die earlier than people who are more privileged. To address these concerns, WHO set up the Commission on the Social Determinants of Health, which brings together leading thinkers on health care and social policy. Their aim is to analyze the social causes of ill health—such as poverty, social exclusion, poor housing and health systems—and actively promote new policies to address them.

WHO’s Constitution states that the “enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being.” The Organisation is working to make this human right a reality, and to make people everywhere healthier.

For further information, please contact the following: Meena Cabral de Mello, Senior Scientist, Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development (CAH), World Health Organisation, 20 Avenue Appia, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland, tel +41-22 791 3616 or +41-22 791 3281, fax +41-22 791 4853, emails: cabraldemellomho.int; cah@who.int. Web site: http://www.who.int/about/en See also United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Meena Cabral de Mello