World Health Organization (WHO), specialized agency of the United Nations, established in 1948, with its headquarters at Geneva. WHO admits all sovereign states (including those not belonging to the United Nations) to full membership, and it admits territories that are not self-governing to associate membership. There are 193 member nations. WHO is governed by the World Health Assembly, consisting of representatives of the entire membership, which meets once a year in Geneva; an executive board of 34 health experts elected by the World Health Assembly; and a secretariat headed by a director-general. There are regional organizations in Africa, the E Mediterranean, SE Asia, Europe, the W Pacific, and the Americas. WHO is authorized to issue global health alerts and take other measures to prevent the international spread of health threats. The agency worked to eradicate smallpox, has made notable strides in checking polio, leprosy, cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis, has taken the lead within the UN community on matters related to HIV/AIDS, and sponsors medical research on tropical and other diseases. WHO also has drafted conventions for preventing the international spread of disease, such as sanitary and quarantine requirements, and for reducing smoking, and has given attention to the problems of environmental pollution.
See C. F. Brockington, World Health (1958); M. C. Morgan, Doctors to the World (1958); G. Mikes, The Riches of the Poor: A Journey Round the World Health Organization (1988); P. Wood, ed., World Health Organization; A Brief Summary of Its Work (1989); J. Siddiqi, World Health and World Politics (1995); G. L. Burci and C.-H. Vignes, World Health Organization (2004); K. Lee, The World Health Organization (2008).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.