What is the WHO?

The World Health Organization (WHO) is the UN agency specialized in promoting the health of the global population. By health, the WHO understands a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. According to its program for 2019-2023, the organization has three priorities: ensuring universal health coverage, protecting people from health emergencies, and improving people’s health and well-being. To this end, it meets at the World Health Assembly and acts through its Executive Council and regional committees. Among its achievements are having eradicated smallpox and the malaria vaccine, although it has been criticized for its management of health crises such as influenza A and covid-19.

An organization for global health

The World Health Organization was founded within the framework of the UN on April 7, 1948, the day its constitution and subsequent World Health Day came into force. The first World Health Assembly that year established the first priorities for the organization: controlling the spread of malaria, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections, and improving maternal and child health, nutrition and environmental hygiene. Among its milestones are programs against HIV or polio. Today, the WHO is made up of 194 Member States, operates in six regions and has 150 offices.

Member States meet each year at the World Health Assembly to define financial policies, agree on budgets and approve scientific publications. In this they also elect the 34 health technicians who make up the Executive Council. The Council advises, implements the decisions of the Assembly and interviews and selects candidates for director general proposed by the Member States for the Assembly to vote on their appointment. Finally, the six regional committees define guidelines for health policies and are made up of those responsible for health from the Governments.

WHO priorities: coverage, emergencies and well-being

The World Health Organization has three priorities: guaranteeing universal health coverage, protecting against health emergencies, and improving people’s health and well-being. Regarding the first, the WHO makes a list of essential medicines that must be available to all countries at an affordable price. This was done in 2017 with hepatitis C medication. For health emergencies, the organization can promote measures such as vaccination or international travel restrictions. In addition, it researches and develops vaccination programs against infectious diseases, and assists less advanced countries in their implementation. Thanks to this, the WHO eradicated smallpox in 1979 and confirmed in 2022 the development of a vaccine against malaria.

Third, the organization implemented policies on harmful food compounds and carries out public health campaigns to help people live healthier lives. Campaigns against tobacco consumption, for example, have reduced it in 150 countries. For 2019-2023, the WHO has proposed the “3 billion goals”: ​​one billion more people with universal health coverage, one billion better protected against health emergencies and one billion more with healthier lives.

Too fast with influenza A, slow with covid-19

The World Health Organization has also been criticized for its management of epidemics such as influenza A and the Covid-19 pandemic. With influenza A between 2009 and 2010 it declared an epidemic too soon and caused excessive alarm. The massive purchase of medical supplies and vaccines by governments only enriched pharmaceutical companies. The opposite occurred with the covid-19 pandemic, where the response was slow while waiting for approval from the affected countries. The pandemic also demonstrated the problem of WHO’s financing: in addition to the mandatory fees of its members, the majority of the budget comes from donations from countries and private entities. China has increased its contributions since 2014, raising suspicions about the body’s lack of firmness against it.