By | July 2, 2021

The WHO works for the well-being of people and deals with issues related to medical research, diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, pandemics and coordination of aid efforts in humanitarian crises.


Standing for World Health Organization according to abbreviationfinder, WHO is the UN’s specialist body for health issues. The organization’s goal is to work to ensure that all people are as healthy as possible. According to the WHO Charter, good health is a fundamental right and the organization sees health issues as crucial to peace and security in the world.

The WHO defines health as “complete physical, mental and social well-being and not just the absence of disease and ailments”.

The WHO leads and coordinates international health care work, provides technical support and assistance to member countries, conducts medical research and compiles statistics and information on health issues.

Work against infectious diseases is conducted, among other things, through vaccination campaigns. Information is also important, both to prevent the spread of infection and to inform about the health risks of, for example, tobacco, alcohol and drugs. The preventive work also includes working for living conditions that promote health, for example by giving people access to clean water, proper housing and good nutrition.

Almost all countries in the world are members of the WHO, but several other organizations compete with the WHO in international health care work.

The WHO Charter entered into force on April 7, 1948, when it was ratified by 26 governments, including Sweden. This date has since been celebrated as World Health Day.

Since the start, the number of members has gradually grown and today almost all countries in the world are members of the WHO. Only Taiwan, Liechtenstein and the Vatican City State are excluded.

Issues that were at the center of the WHO at an early stage were the fight against infectious diseases and measures for better maternal and child health care.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the WHO’s work was mostly about finding medical solutions to fight disease. At that time, for example, the first international vaccination campaigns were launched. At the same time, healthcare was expanded in the developed countries, and it was thought that the new technology that was developed in the long run would also benefit the developing countries.

During the 1970’s, WHOs’ work was increasingly oriented towards investments in preventive measures. The importance of primary care was emphasized and in 1977 the WHO specified its vision of better public health in the slogan “Health for all in the year 2000”. The position of the WHO was very strong during this time and the “Health for All” strategy expressed a clear optimism. A highlight was when the WHO in 1979, after a vaccination campaign that had been going on since the early 1960’s, announced that the disease smallpox had been eradicated.

But the economic downturn and growing debt burdens in the late 1980’s had negative consequences for health efforts in many developing countries. Around the same time, the world began to open its eyes to the scale of the AIDS epidemic, particularly in Africa. Criticism began to grow towards the lack of efficiency within the WHO and support among member countries weakened. This led to the organization’s governing body in 1993 deciding that radical changes were necessary. This applied to everything from clarifying the organization’s goals and health strategies to streamlining control functions, budget process and personnel policy.

It also became increasingly clear that the “health for all” goals would not be achieved until 2000. Since then, the strategy has been called “Health 21 – health for all in the 21st century”.

In the early 2000’s, the organization’s role as a monitor and coordinator was strengthened in the face of the threat of so-called pandemics, worldwide epidemics. The coordinating role WHO had the opportunity to practice at the outbreak of the 2000’s first pandemic of SARS in 2003 (see Operations) and its successor the swine flu in 2009, Mers 2012, Ebola in 2014 and Zika in 2016.

When the ongoing corona pandemic covid-19 broke out in early 2020, a serious conflict was triggered within the organization. US President Donald Trump accused the WHO of failing in its basic mission and of helping China obscure the outbreak of the new virus. In April 2020, Trump stopped US funding for the WHO almost completely, and a couple of months later, Trump announced that the United States would leave the organization, which is expected to happen in July 2021.

The external cooperation

As an expert body for health care, the WHO has a relatively well-developed collaboration with other UN bodies that provide health assistance. For example, they implement joint programs where the WHO is primarily responsible for scientific and technical expertise. Gradually, however, various UN organizations, such as Unicef, UNDP and the World Bank, have built up their own health expertise.

WHO has a very broad collaboration with medical research. The organization collaborates with nearly 1,000 scientific institutions (WHO Collaborating Centers) around the world.

WHO also has good contacts with a number of voluntary organizations. They are occasionally invited to WHO expert meetings, partly because they are important in bilateral aid work. They can also attend meetings of the World Health Assembly.

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