The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, it has six regional offices and 150 field offices worldwide. The WHO was established on 7 April 1948. The first meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA), the agency's governing body, took place on 24 July of that year. The WHO incorporated the assets, personnel, and duties of the League of Nations' Health Organization and the Office International d'Hygiène Publique, including the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Its work began in earnest in 1951 after a significant infusion of financial and technical resources.
1955: The malaria eradication programme was launched, although objectives were later modified. (In most areas, the programme goals became control instead of eradication.): 9
1958: Viktor Zhdanov, Deputy Minister of Health for the USSR, called on the World Health Assembly to undertake a global initiative to eradicate smallpox, resulting in Resolution WHA11.54.: 366–371, 393, 399, 419
1967: The WHO intensified the global smallpox eradication campaign by contributing $2.4 million annually to the effort and adopted a new disease surveillance method, at a time when 2 million people were dying from smallpox per year. The initial problem the WHO team faced was inadequate reporting of smallpox cases. WHO established a network of consultants who assisted countries in setting up surveillance and containment activities. The WHO also helped contain the last European outbreak in Yugoslavia in 1972. After over two decades of fighting smallpox, a Global Commission declared in 1979 that the disease had been eradicated – the first disease in history to be eliminated by human effort.
1974: The Expanded Programme on Immunization: 13 and the control programme of onchocerciasis was started, an important partnership between the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the World Bank.: 14
1975: The WHO launched the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical diseases (the TDR).: 15 Co-sponsored by UNICEF, UNDP, and the World Bank, it was established in response to a 1974 request from the WHA for an intensive effort to develop improved control of tropical diseases. The TDR's goals are, firstly, to support and coordinate international research into diagnosis, treatment and control of tropical diseases; and, secondly, to strengthen research capabilities within endemic countries.
1986: The WHO began its global programme on HIV/AIDS.: 20 Two years later preventing discrimination against patients was attended to: 21 and in 1996 the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) was formed.: 23
1995: WHO established an independent International Commission for the Certification of Dracunculiasis Eradication (Guinea worm disease eradication; ICCDE).: 23 The ICCDE recommends to the WHO which countries fulfil requirements for certification. It also has role in advising on progress made towards elimination of transmission and processes for verification.
1998: WHO's director-general highlighted gains in child survival, reduced infant mortality, increased life expectancy and reduced rates of "scourges" such as smallpox and polio on the fiftieth anniversary of WHO's founding. He, did, however, accept that more had to be done to assist maternal health and that progress in this area had been slow.
2002: The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was drawn up to improve the resources available.: 27
2005: WHO revises International Health Regulations (IHR) in light of emerging health threats and the experience of the 2002/3 SARS epidemic, authorizing WHO, among other things, to declare a health threat a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
2016: Following the perceived failure of the response to the West Africa Ebola outbreak, the World Health Emergencies programme was formed, changing the WHO from just being a "normative" agency to one that responds operationally to health emergencies.
2022: WHO suggests formation of a Global Health Emergency Council, with new global health emergency workforce, recommends revision of the International Health Regulations.
The International Sanitary Conferences (ISC), the first of which was held on 23 June 1851, were a series of conferences that took place until 1938, about 87 years. The first conference, in Paris, was almost solely concerned with cholera, which would remain the disease of major concern for the ISC for most of the 19th century. With the aetiology, even the communicability, of many epidemic diseases still uncertain and a matter of scientific argument, international agreement on appropriate measures was difficult to reach. Seven of these international conferences, spanning 41 years, were convened before any resulted in a multi-state international agreement. The seventh conference, in Venice in 1892, finally resulted in a convention. It was concerned only with the sanitary control of shipping traversing the Suez Canal, and was an effort to guard against importation of cholera.: 65
Five years later, in 1897, a convention concerning the bubonic plague was signed by sixteen of the 19 states attending the Venice conference. While Denmark, Sweden-Norway, and the USA did not sign this convention, it was unanimously agreed that the work of the prior conferences should be codified for implementation. Subsequent conferences, from 1902 until the final one in 1938, widened the diseases of concern for the ISC, and included discussions of responses to yellow fever, brucellosis, leprosy, tuberculosis, and typhoid. In part as a result of the successes of the Conferences, the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau (1902), and the Office International d'Hygiène Publique (1907) were soon founded. When the League of Nations was formed in 1920, they established the Health Organization of the League of Nations. After World War II, the United Nations absorbed all the other health organizations, to form the WHO.
During the 1945 United Nations Conference on International Organization, Szeming Sze, a delegate from China, conferred with Norwegian and Brazilian delegates on creating an international health organization under the auspices of the new United Nations. After failing to get a resolution passed on the subject, Alger Hiss, the secretary general of the conference, recommended using a declaration to establish such an organization. Sze and other delegates lobbied and a declaration passed calling for an international conference on health. The use of the word "world", rather than "international", emphasized the truly global nature of what the organization was seeking to achieve. The constitution of the World Health Organization was signed by all 51 countries of the United Nations, and by 10 other countries, on 22 July 1946. It thus became the first specialized agency of the United Nations to which every member subscribed. Its constitution formally came into force on the first World Health Day on 7 April 1948, when it was ratified by the 26th member state.
The first meeting of the World Health Assembly finished on 24 July 1948, having secured a budget of US$5 million(then £1,250,000) for the 1949 year. G. Brock Chisholm was appointed director-general of the WHO, having served as executive secretary and a founding member during the planning stages, while Andrija Štampar was the assembly's first president. Its first priorities were to control the spread of malaria, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections, and to improve maternal and child health, nutrition and environmental hygiene. Its first legislative act was concerning the compilation of accurate statistics on the spread and morbidity of disease. The logo of the World Health Organization features the Rod of Asclepius as a symbol for healing.