World Health Organization


August 15, 2022

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) for public health created in 1948. It reports directly to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and its headquarters are located in Pregny -Chambésy, in the canton of Geneva, in Switzerland. According to its constitution, WHO aims to achieve the highest attainable standard of health for all peoples in member and partner states, health being defined in the same document as "a state of complete physical, mental and social and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". Since July 1, 2017, the director general of the institution is Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.


Before 1948: Previous institutions

Around 1850 different measures were taken to put in place quarantine measures mainly intended to protect European states against the plague. In 1851, the first international sanitary conference took place in Paris, bringing together 12 States, which discussed an international sanitary convention signed in January 1852 to fight against the plague, yellow fever and cholera. However, this convention was only ratified by France and Sardinia, then by Portugal, before being abandoned. Several other conferences follow, without results. In 1892, the seventh conference in Venice led to the signing of an international health convention on cholera. In 1897, an international health convention on the plague was signed in turn. In 1903, a conference set up the international health convention bringing together the latter two. This conference also sets itself the goal of creating an international health institution. In 1907, the "Office international d'Hygiène publique" (OIHP) was created in Rome and provided with a permanent secretariat and a "permanent committee". This committee organized several conferences over the following years. The OIHP is at its creation composed of 12 nations, its official language is French and its headquarters are in Paris. Its function is to monitor and fight the plague, cholera and yellow fever. Gradually the OIHP obtains mandates on new diseases, for example tuberculosis. In 1926, the OIHP conference adopted a new international health convention extending its provisions to smallpox and typhus. During the First World War, the OIHP focused its expertise on war-related trauma. In 1902, the Pan American Sanitary Bureau was founded, in particular for the exchange of epidemiological data and to coordinate the fight against epidemics. Its functions were reinforced in 1924 by the Pan American Sanitary Code. At the end of the First World War, a certain number of countries, and influential personalities within the international community such as Camille Barrère, were opposed to the OIHP coming under the control of the brand new League of Nations ( SDN). The Spanish flu of 1918-1919, which caused, according to the sources, between 30 and 100 million deaths (more than the First World War), pushed the League of Nations to create in 1923 the "hygiene committee" of the League, considered as the ancestor of WHO. Dominated by France and the United Kingdom, the Committee's health surveillance covered 70% of the globe at the end of the 1920s. The hygiene committee develops in areas and diseases where the OIHP is not active, such as cancer, malaria or leprosy, with greater technical skills than the OIHP. The two institutions cooperate on a few subjects. Until the Second World War, three international health organizations coexisted: two in Europe, the OIHP and the Health Organization of the League of Nations, while in �