Caare101 Spotlight #3: World Health Organization

June 20, 2013 at 10:58 pm

World Health OrgThe World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations. With its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the organization has grown from 26 member countries in 1948 to more than 190 in 2003, improving health conditions on every continent of the earth. It functions under the aegis of the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council. The governing body of WHO is the World Health Assembly, which is composed of delegations from all member states. The assembly decides the policies, programs, and budget of the organization. It selects the countries that will place one member each on its twenty-four-member executive board, which oversees the programs and budget for the coming year. These plans are presented for approval by the director general, who, with a staff of two thousand, is responsible for conducting investigations and surveys.

The World Health Organization is divided into six regional subdivisions working in Europe, the Americas, Africa, the middle eastern Mediterranean, southeastern Asia, and the western Pacific. These regional organizations have headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark; Washington, D.C.; Brazzaville, Congo; Alexandria, Egypt; New Delhi, India; and Manila, the Philippines, respectively.

The regular budget is contributed directly to WHO by its member states. The United Nations also devotes many resources to the Fund for Technical Assistance to Underdeveloped Countries, of which a substantial part is for health work. Other financial sources are individual donations for promoting good health practices and eradicating malaria. Despite these incomes, there is a continual drain on funds because many underdeveloped countries cannot afford to pay for the drugs, vaccines, or technical medical assistance that they receive.

One of WHO’s enduring achievements has been to communicate to the world an understanding and acceptance of the idea of a common, basic list of drugs. The model Essential Drug List has been a powerful tool in providing scientific justification for the improvement of health standards and practices through publicity, workshops, and training in the developing world. The first list of essential drugs was published in 1977 and included 205 drugs; the list published in 1999 contained 306 preparations. Drugs are included based on recommendations of expert committees from both developing and developed countries. The committees consist of clinical pharmacologists, health officials, and university professors. The drugs are chosen for efficacy, safety, quality, and stability. By emphasizing generic agents, the list has stimulated international competition among drug suppliers and brought down prices—an important consideration since some countries spend 40 percent of their slim health budgets on drugs.

WHO concerns itself with the needs of those billions of people in the world who are still without regular access to the most basic drugs at the primary health care level. It seeks to establish equitable access to essential drugs for people. The organization has helped more than 90 percent of its member nations to develop a partly or fully developed essential drugs policy. The Essential Drug List is a valuable resource for countries trying to develop their own national lists. Changes have been made in the list for several reasons, including oversight or omission, accumulation of more conclusive evidence of the therapeutic advantages of various drugs, and changes in the perceived role of the list itself.

WHO attacks communicable diseases in every country through prevention, control, and treatment. The cornerstone of prevention and control is education. Public information is of crucial importance in controlling epidemics. Also vital to many populations is information on nutrition, breast-feeding, personal hygiene, cleanliness, and the use of safe water. Stress is placed on the public’s ability to play an important role in prevention and early detection. With full and accurate information, symptoms may be correctly interpreted and conditions correctly diagnosed, thus preventing the spread of disease.

Various WHO commissions continue working on projects to improve health standards. Efforts continue for increasing the number of trained medical personnel in many countries. Systems for selecting, procuring, storing, and distributing drugs and supplies more efficiently are continually being refined. WHO is cognizant of a global range of concerns, from promoting a healthy environment to revising guidelines for ethical conduct in research on an international level.