Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

World Health Organization (WHO)

WHO is a United Nations specialized agency concentrating exclusively on health by providing technical cooperation, carrying out programmes to control and eradicate disease and striving to improve the quality of human life. WHO has 191 Member States that meet annually at the World Health Assembly in Geneva. The WHO regular budget has not grown in real terms since the early 1980s and compared to those of other organizations, such as the World Bank, is relatively small; in 2002-03 its regular budget was just under US$1 billion. WHO's mission statement includes the following objectives:

  • To act as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work
  • To promote technical cooperation
  • To assist governments, upon request, to strengthen health services
  • To provide technical assistance and, in emergencies, aid
  • To stimulate and advance work on the prevention and control of endemic diseases
  • To promote, in cooperation with other agencies, the improvement of nutrition, housing, sanitation, recreation, economic or working conditions and environmental hygiene
  • To promote and coordinate biomedical and health services research
  • To promote improved standards of teaching and training in health, to establish and stimulate the establishment of international standards for biological, pharmaceutical and similar products, and to standardize diagnostic procedures
  • To foster activities in the field of mental health and the harmony of human relations.

Within the changing context of development assistance, WHO's crucial role is:

  • To provide guidance on health policy and resource allocation in the health sector
  • To argue the case for health within the process of overall development and poverty reduction
  • To work with governments and with development partners - the international financial institutions, the bilateral donors, and organizations of the United Nations family.

Specifically, it is recognized that WHO is well positioned to act as broker and arbiter, helping to shape the rules of engagement between government, development agencies and civil society in promoting equitable and sustainable health for all. There is a new emphasis in WHO's corporate strategy on:

  • Adopting a broader approach to health in the context of human development, humanitarian action and human rights, focusing particularly on the links between health and poverty reduction.
  • Playing a greater role in establishing wider national and international consensus on health policy, strategies and standards by managing the generation and application of research, knowledge and expertise.
  • Triggering more effective action to improve health and to decrease inequities in health outcomes by carefully negotiating partnerships and catalysing action on the part of others.
  • Creating an organizational culture that encourages strategic thinking, global influence, prompt action, creative networking and innovation.

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