World health report

Executive summary

How WHO works and what it does

The report describes the way in which the Organization functions in order to carry out the mandate of its Constitution. For instance, it fulfils a wide range of normative activities, setting standards. Examples are the International Classification of Diseases, the International Health Regulations, the Nonproprietary Names for Pharmaceutical Substances, the Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality, the Codex Alimentarius, the Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, and the Organization's work in the field of biological standardization.

General programmes of work lay down medium-term objectives for a specified period (4-6 years), while programme budgets set out immediate objectives for activities to be undertaken during a biennium. Different emphasis was given at different times to WHO's role and functions in response to the world health situation. Functions have traditionally been grouped into two categories: direction and coordination of international health work, and technical cooperation with countries. Within this framework, WHO's activities were aimed at yielding results that could be demonstrable to governments. The activities therefore followed a careful analysis with countries of their needs in support of their strategies. Programme orientation and targets have included strengthening national health services, promoting and protecting health, preventing and controlling specific health problems, and promoting medical and health research.

An essential task of the Organization is gathering vital information. Examples are the statistical services, and disease surveillance. The information, once collected, has to be processed and disseminated. For the latter purpose, WHO has public information, library and publishing services which use a variety of methods, including the most up-to-date communication techniques.