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WHO’s leadership priorities

What are WHO’s leadership priorities - and why are they different from the categories of work?

In May this year, the Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly approved the Twelfth General Programme of Work for the six-year period 2014–2019. The General Programme of Work sets out a vision for WHO, describing the six leadership priorities that define the areas in which WHO influences the world of global health.

The six leadership priorities
  • Advancing universal health coverage
  • Health-related Millennium Development Goals
  • Addressing the challenge of noncommunicable diseases
  • Implementing the provisions of the International Health Regulations (2005)
  • Increasing access to essential, high-quality, safe, effective and affordable medical products
  • Addressing the social, economic and environmental determinants of health.

And the reform priorities of:

  • Strengthening WHO's governance role;
  • Reforming management policies, systems and practice

The Programme budget 2014–2015, on the other hand, is organized around 30 programmatic areas, within six categories of work for the Secretariat.

The six categories of work
  • Communicable diseases
  • Noncommunicable diseases
  • Promoting health through the life-course
  • Health systems
  • Preparedness, surveillance and response
  • Corporate services/enabling functions.

Many people ask about the difference between the leadership priorities and the categories of work. The answer is linked to the nature of WHO’s mandate “to act as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work”.

"Categories of work describe the scope of the Secretariat’s work, while leadership priorities give focus and direction to WHO’s work"


WHO is an organization of 194 Member States, supported by a Secretariat led by the Director-General. The leadership priorities define the key issues WHO Member States have agreed the world should focus on in order to deliver better health outcomes. The categories of work provide a structure for the work of the Secretariat in its support to countries. Put simply, categories of work describe the scope of the Secretariat’s work, while leadership priorities give focus and direction to WHO’s work.

The leadership priorities link to the Organization’s role in health governance, and highlight areas in which WHO’s advocacy and technical leadership are most needed. They provide opportunities for WHO to shape the global debate, secure country involvement and drive the way the Organization works – integrating efforts across and between levels of WHO.


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