Multilingualism in WHO's work

Implementation of action plan

The six official languages used in WHO are those common to other organizations of the United Nations system. However, in order to address the health needs of Member States, WHO needs to exchange information and communicate in multiple languages. Hence, WHO is better equipped to communicate and disseminate health messages, to produce and distribute health information, and to generate, share and use its knowledge in health.

The advances of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) has made it possible to interact in a very fast way, highlighting the importance of the language. Understanding the message in one’s own language is a vital way to communicate, to pass the message across, and a way to respect one's identity and culture. The opportunity to use one’s language to obtain and exchange information will determine the capacity to translate knowledge into practice.

In 2008, the World Health Assembly adopted a multilingualism plan of action to ensure that equitable access to information and knowledge not only in the six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish), but also in local languages where required.

The ePORTUGUÊSe platform is an example that aims to bridge the gap between knowledge and action by developing a health information network in Portuguese that benefits health professionals, police makers and the academic community in the eight Portuguese speaking countries. It helps generate capacity building and promotes visibility and support to local knowledge production.