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The World Health Organization – Leading the way toward “Health for All”

on September 26, 2013

Before joining the NCCDH in 2012, I was fortunate enough to spend time working at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.  Established in 1948 in the aftermath of the Second World War, the WHO has acted as a force behind some of the most ambitious and successful public health initiatives of the past century. The worldwide eradication of smallpox in 1979, for example, would likely not have taken place had it not been for the WHO’s coordination of global vaccination efforts.

Working with the Global Observatory for eHealth, I was tasked with developing an online directory  for member states to use as they create their own policies and programs for the use of information and communication technologies in health. Many of these technologies aim to improve the health of the world’s least wealthy, and by extension, the world’s least healthy. For example, telehealth and text message technologies can be used to help doctors reach isolated communities, and computerized health records used to improve local monitoring capacity.

As Research Assistant for the NCCDH, I’ve often drawn on lessons learned during my time in Geneva. For one, the WHO has long been a champion for everyone’s equal right to health, and holistic, intersectoral approaches to improving health status across the board. As early as 1978, the WHO’s Alma Ata declaration called for “Health for All by the Year 2000,” and advocated for policies that would put conditions in place to support healthy communities.

In recent years, the WHO – funded in large part by 194 member states – has been severely affected by the recent economic strife in the European Union and elsewhere. Despite this, they continue to do excellent, and essential, work. In 2005, the WHO convened the Commission on the Social Determinants of Health under the direction of Sir Michael Marmot. This was followed in 2011 by the Rio Political Declaration on Social Determinants of Health, a global call to action on the determinants of health and health equity.

Recently, we profiled the Conceptual Framework for Action on the Social Determinants of Health in our NCCDH Resource Library. This ‘action-based’ framework was developed by the Commission on the Social Determinants of Health itself. This document can be used by Canadian public health practitioners to guide their thinking about the social determinants of health and the determinants of health inequities (and the difference between them) and identify points of intervention – both upstream and downstream – to improve health equity in Canada. We invite you to download this document, and check out other WHO publications profiled in our library.

Other WHO resources that may be of interest include:


Critical works in health equity, Healthy public policy, Intersectoral action, Key concepts

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