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WHO Historical Collection

Disease classifications and nomenclature documents

The history of the systematic statistical classification of diseases dates back to the ninteenth century. Groundwork was done by early medical statisticians William Farr (1807-1883) and Jacques Bertillon (1851-1922). The French government invoked the first International Conference for the revision of the Bertillon or International Classification of Causes of Death in August 1900. The next conference was held in 1909, and the French government called succeeding conferences in 1920, 1929 and 1938. The WHO Library Historical Collection includes volumes which trace the history of disease classification.

These volumes between the years 1903 until 1938 are available in PDF format below.

The International Health Conference held in New York City in 1946 entrusted the Interim Commission of the World Health Organization with the responsibility of preparing a sixth revision of the International Lists of Diseases and Causes of Death. An Expert Committee of the WHO prepared the revision which was approved by the International Conference for the Sixth Revision of the International Lists of Diseases and Causes of Death as well as the first World Health Assembly in 1948. The Sixth Revision extended the scope of the classification to non-fatal diseases, and WHO has continued to be responsible for periodic revisions of the classification.

Volumes tracing the history of disease classification (1903-1938)