World Health Organisation

Quest for UPSC CSE Panels

World Health Organisation-Image




GS-II: International Relations & Institutions

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Mains: Important International Institutions, agencies and fora - their Structure, Mandate.


What is World Health Organisation, and its objectives?

The World Health Organization (WHO), established in 1948, is a specialized agency of the United Nations that connects nations, partners and people to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable – so everyone, everywhere can attain the highest level of health. 

Some of the important objectives of WHO are:

  • Lead global efforts to expand universal health coverage.
  • Focus on the areas of disease prevention, control and elimination, and the promotion of health and well-being.
  • Provide leadership on global health issues, set standards for public health, and provide technical assistance and support to countries. 
  • Collaborate with various partners, including other UN agencies, governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector.

What is the governance structure and functioning of WHO?

The governance structure of the WHO is designed to support the implementation of its mandate and the achievement of its objectives. It includes:

  • Membership: WHO currently has 194 member states.
  • World Health Assembly (WHA): The highest decision-making body of WHO and comprises representatives from all member States. 
  • Secretariat: Responsible for carrying out the policies and programs approved by the WHA.
  • Director-General: Director-General heads the WHA and is supported by a senior management team. 
  • Regional Offices: WHO also has six regional offices: Africa, the Americas, Southeast Asia, Europe, Eastern Mediterranean, and Western Pacific. 
    • Each regional office is responsible for coordinating and supporting WHO's work in their respective regions.
  • Meetings: The WHA meets annually to set policies, approve the budget and elect the Director-General.
  • Funding mechanism: WHO gets its funding from two main sources: 
    • Assessed contributions: These are the dues countries pay in order to be a member of the Organization.
    • Voluntary contributions: It is from Member States (in addition to their assessed contribution) or from other partners like United Nations organizations, intergovernmental organizations, philanthropic foundations, the private sector etc.


What is the role of WHO in global health governance?

key roles of the World Health Organization (WHO) in global health governance:

  • Setting global health standards and guidelines: To help countries to address health challenges effectively.
  • Monitoring and assessing global health trends: To provide updates on emerging health issues and disease outbreaks to help countries prepare and respond.
  • Coordinating international health responses: Working with governments, other UN agencies, and international partners to coordinate global health responses to epidemics, disasters, and other health emergencies.
  • Building health systems: The WHO supports countries in strengthening their health systems, which includes improving access to essential medicines, training health workers, and developing health infrastructure.
  • Conducting research and development: The WHO conducts and promotes research into global health issues, with a focus on finding solutions to health challenges affecting low- and middle-income countries
  • Advocating for better health policies and funding: The WHO advocates for policies and funding that prioritize global health issues and ensure that health is a central component of development agendas.
  • Providing technical assistance and capacity building: The WHO provides technical assistance and capacity building to countries, to help them develop and implement effective health policies and programs.


How has WHO contributed towards improving global health?

The WHO has significantly contributed to improving global health over the past several decades. Some of its notable achievements include

  • Disease eradication:
    • Smallpox: WHO led the global campaign to eradicate smallpox, which was declared eradicated in 1980.
    • Polio: WHO has been a key partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which has led to a 99% reduction in polio cases worldwide.
  • Control of communicable diseases: Like malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS etc. through the development and promotion of evidence-based strategies and interventions.
  • Health Systems Strengthening: WHO has been actively engaged in strengthening health systems in low-and middle-income countries.
    • Example: ‘The WHO India Country Cooperation Strategy 2019–2023: A Time of Transition’ provides a strategic roadmap for WHO to work with India towards achieving its health sector goals.
  • Essential medicines: It works to ensure access to essential medicines for all by providing guidance on the selection, procurement, and use of essential medicines.
  • Nutrition improvement: It works to improve nutrition for all, by providing guidance and support to countries in the development of national nutrition policies and programs.
  • Emergencies and disasters: It provides technical guidance and support to countries and coordinates the international response during emergencies and disasters.
    • Examine: WHO provided timely updates and assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Mental health: It works to promote mental health and well-being and prevent and treat mental disorders by providing guidance and support to countries.
    • WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020
  • Digital Health: It helps countries to leverage the power of digital technologies to improve health outcomes.


What are the areas of work under India-WHO partnership?

India and WHO have a cooperative partnership in several areas of public health. Some of these areas are:

  • Disease Control and Prevention: Collaboration on various disease control and prevention programs like the National program for the control of tuberculosis, the National Strategic Plan for Elimination of Malaria (2017-2022), and the National program for the control of HIV/AIDS
    • WHO collaborated with the Jammu and Kashmir in 2021 to identify challenges that have led to vaccine hesitancy (COVID-19) and conduct special vaccination drives to increase vaccination coverage
  • Maternal and Child Health: Reducing maternal and child mortality by providing technical assistance and support. 
    • Example: Supporting the implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan that aims to provide free and quality ante-natal care to pregnant women across India.
  • Non-Communicable Diseases: WHO is working with India to prevent and control non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease etc.
  • Traditional Medicine: WHO is working with India to promote the safe and effective use of traditional medicine.
    • Example: WHO signed an agreement with the government of India to establish WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine in Jamnagar, Gujarat.
  • Health Research: WHO and India have a strong partnership in the area of health research.
  • Digital Health: WHO is working with India to leverage the power of digital technologies to improve health outcomes. 
    • Example: To develop the National Digital Health Blueprint, which aims to create a digital health ecosystem to improve access to healthcare services in India.


What are the issues and challenges faced by WHO?

The WHO faces a number of difficulties in its working and organizational structure. Some of these challenges include:

  • Limited funding: WHO relies heavily on voluntary funding from member states and other donors, which is unpredictable and insufficient to fully fund its programs.
  • Emergence of new diseases: The WHO must constantly monitor and respond to new and emerging diseases, such as COVID-19, which can strain its resources and capabilities.
  • Limited access to healthcare: Many countries still lack adequate healthcare infrastructure and resources, which makes it difficult for WHO to improve health outcomes in these areas.
  • Climate Change and health: Climate change is increasingly affecting health, and WHO faces the challenge of dealing with the health consequences of extreme weather events and the health effects of air and water pollution.
  • Criticisms faced by WHO: 
    • Inefficiency and bureaucracy: WHO is slow to respond to health crises due to its bureaucratic structure and lack of resources. 
      • Example: During the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the WHO was criticized for delayed response and underestimation of the outbreak.
    • Political interference: The alleged China’s influence over WHO came to limelight during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Lack of transparency: The WHO has been criticized for lack of transparency in its decision-making and operations. 
      • Example: WHO handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and for not being forthcoming about the origins of the virus.
    • Inadequate representation: WHO does not adequately represent the interests of all member states, particularly developing countries. 


What steps can be taken to make WHO more effective?

The WHO is a vital institution that plays a crucial role in addressing global health challenges. Some of the steps that can be taken to make WHO more effective are:

  • Increased funding: WHO's budget needs to be increased to ensure it has the necessary resources to address global health challenges effectively.
    • There is a need to ensure that extra budgetary or voluntary contributions are unearmarked to ensure that the WHO has necessary flexibility in its usage.
  • Ensuring transparency of funding mechanism and accountability framework: Member States should be involved in discussions on budget implementation and spending.
    • Establish transparency with respect to data reporting and disbursement of funds for increased accountability.
  • Strengthening leadership and governance: To enhance transparency, accountability, and effectiveness. This could include increasing the representation of low- and middle-income countries in decision-making bodies.
  • Improved focus on prevention and preparedness: WHO needs to prioritize prevention and preparedness for outbreaks and pandemics, rather than simply reacting to crises when they occur. 
    • This could include Strengthening the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) declaration process.
  • Creation of Global Framework for Management of Infectious Diseases & Pandemics: To include enhancement of capacities of countries in response to infectious diseases including guidance on effective public health and health emergencies 
    • A system facilitating pan world surveillance by leveraging innovative ICT tools should be established.


Previous Year Questions



Q) Critically examine the role of WHO in providing global health security during the Covid-19 pandemic. (2020)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Q) What is the difference between a pandemic and epidemic?

A pandemic is declared when a new disease for which people do not have immunity spreads around the world beyond expectations. On the other hand, an epidemic is a large outbreak, one that spreads among a population or region. It is less severe than pandemic due to a limited area of spread.


Q) What are some examples of diseases declared pandemic by WHO?

Some of the diseases declared pandemic by the WHO are:

  • 1957–1958 influenza pandemic
  • 1968 Flu Pandemic
  • 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak
  • 2019 COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) outbreak