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75 years of the WHO

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: Important International Institutions, agencies and fora – their Structure, Mandate


Source: IE

 Context: Despite some great successes, the 75-year-old World Health Organization (WHO) has received its fair share of criticism.


The World Health Organization (WHO):

  • It is a specialised agency of the UN (HQ – Geneva, Switzerland) established on 7 April (World Health Day) 1948 and is responsible for international public health.
  • Members: 194 member states
  • The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of the WHO
    • Composed of health ministers from member states, WHA selects the director-general of the WHO (currently – Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia).



  • Working worldwide to promote health and well-being → serving the vulnerable,
  • Coordinating responses to health emergencies,
  • Providing technical assistance to countries → Set international health standards



  • Eradication of smallpox (1980) – the only human disease to be eradicated, the near-eradication of polio, and the development of an Ebola
  • Efforts helped in realising the goal of health as a human right.


Current priorities include:

  • Communicable diseases: HIV/AIDS, Ebola, COVID-19, malaria and tuberculosis
  • Non-communicable diseases: Heart disease and cancer; healthy diet, nutrition, and food security; occupational health; and substance abuse.


The failed attempts of WHO:

  • Eradication of malaria: The WHO launched the Global Malaria Eradication Programme (1955). But there was little/no progress and the program was discontinued in 1969.
  • COVID-19: Some critics complained that the WHO failed in the early detection of the disease and was not doing enough to support member states.


Main issues faced by the WHO:

  • Stymied by a divided world with nations advancing their own interests at the cost of others.
  • WHO does not have the authority –
    • to enforce its recommendations.
    • to take action in a member state unless that member state asks for help.
  • The funding mechanism (voluntary contributions) lacks transparency and accountability framework.


Changes made by the WHO to its structure: It now cooperates with tech companies and relies to a lesser degree on national governments for crucial health information → lowering the chances of missing the start of another serious disease outbreak.


Challenges and way ahead:

  • The world will experience more frequent and more severe health threats in the future.
  • It means there is a need to come together around joint priorities and support WHO to –
    • Strengthen the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) declaration process
    • Devise a collaborative mechanism to disburse funding for projects without bias.


Conclusion: These reforms will help the WHO to become a truly global health enforcement policy.


Insta Links:


Mains Links:

Critically examine the role of WHO in providing global health security during the COVID-19 pandemic. (UPSC 2020)