70 Years of the World Health Organisation

The World Health Organisation celebrated its 70th birthday last week, offering a chance to reflect on its legacy and look at the challenges still ahead.

The WHO began in 1948, the same year as the NHS was formed and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights was instituted. It has become synonymous with those human rights and one of its foremost principles is that, “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

  • Since 1948 global life expectancy has increased by 25 years.
  • Smallpox has been eradicated.
  • Polio is on the verge of extinction with only two countries having cases.
  • International efforts have massively controlled diseases like measles, malaria and tropical diseases.
  • WHO partnerships for immunisations are thought to be saving 2-3 million lives a year.
  • Since 1990 6 million more children are living to age 5.
  • The WHO led tobacco control regulations from the 70s onwards.
  • Better, cheaper access to generic drugs for HIV has been championed by the WHO, helping 21 million people get treatment.
  • Governments and agencies have improved reactions to health crises and pandemics with support and data from the WHO, including curbing devastating flu pandemics.
  • WHO’s focus now turns to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer – now the cause of 70% of global deaths.

This year’s 70th anniversary World Health Day had a focus on Universal Health Coverage. Tying back to the WHO’s principles as well as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Universal Health Coverage is a hugely important challenge.

In a piece for The Guardian, Lucy Lamble writes, “For all its imperfections, WHO still has a vital role. We need its convening power as much as we did in 1948. Its failings reflect our current global health inequality and its challenges the politics of redressing this.”

The Gardiner Foundation believes that Universal Health Coverage is a fundamental part of development. It is integral to, and can be helped by, our belief in poverty alleviation through self-employment and entrepreneurship.

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