The World Health Organization, whose director in the novel Inferno by Dan Brown is Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey, is defined by the protagonist Robert Langdon as the gatekeeper of the planet’s health and well-being.
This article defines the WHO and sets out its objectives.
The WHO: what is it
The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations established in 1948 to further international cooperation for improved health conditions.
Its administrative headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland.
While the constitution of the World Health Organization had been signed by all 61 countries of the United Nations by 22 July 1946, its constitution formally came into force on 7 April 1948, the first World Health Day, when it was ratified by the 26th member state.
The logo of the World Health Organization features the Rod of Asclepius, a symbol for healing.
The Rod of Aslepius is also Florence Inferno’s corporate symbol.
The WHO’s Constitution states that its objective “is the attainment by all people of the highest possible level of health.” Moreover, the organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
The WHO is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, establishing norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries, as well as monitoring and assessing health trends.
The WHO: its staff and offices
In addition to medical doctors, public health specialists, scientists and epidemiologists, WHO staff include people trained to manage administrative, financial, and information systems, as well as experts in health statistics, economics, and emergency relief.
The WHO operates through three principal organs: the World Health Assembly, which meets annually as the general policy-making body; an Executive Board of health specialists elected for three-year terms by the assembly; and a Secretariat consisting of approximately 8,000 experts, staff, and field workers who have appointments at the central headquarters, or at one of the six regional WHO offices or other offices located in countries around the world.
The organization is led by a director-general nominated by the Executive Board and appointed by the World Health Assembly.
The director-general is supported by a deputy-director-general and multiple assistant director-generals, each of whom specializes in a specific area.
The WHO is financed by contributions from member states and outside donors.
The WHO’s mandate
The WHO’s mandate is set out in the following six points:
1. Promoting health and socio-economic development
2. Defending against outbreaks of disease through improving health security
3. Reducing poverty by strengthening health services
4. Generating health information that can be disseminated to the public
5. Collaborating and encouraging partnerships between international, not-for-profit, and privately run organizations
6. Reforming and improving the organization’s own performance and that of its associated branches and centres
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