Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

World Health Organisation: change and progress

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 10 June 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:1518
  1. Ilona Kickbusch, director of health promotion, education, and communicationa
  1. a World Health Organisation, CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland
  • Accepted 17 May 1995

As it nears its 50th anniversary, the World Health Organisation today is being subjected to closer scrutiny than at any other stage of its history. In a world that has changed immeasurably since the late 1940s, WHO's role as the leading international health agency is more important than ever. The organisation now must show itself fit and ready to confront new, bigger, and more complex challenges of global health.

Inevitably, at a time when the United Nations system as a whole is under close and often hostile examination, WHO—as a UN specialised agency with a particularly high profile—is taking its share of criticism. The challenge is enormous.

“The World Health Organization's half century amelioration of suffering stands out as a singular achievement in international cooperation. Nevertheless, innumerable health problems, inadequately addressed by the international community, remain and stand as testimony to WHO's limitations and unrealistic goals. The Organisation's ability to adjust to these challenges in the next few years will determine the role it will play in solving global health problems in the future. The future direction and role of WHO are attracting more interest, and debate continues over how best to approach reform.” This is an excerpt from an article by John W Peabody that appeared recently in Social Science and Medicine1 and which attempts to address the many difficulties facing WHO and its strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the BMJ's recent series of articles on the organisation by Fiona Godlee, which makes little attempt to grasp the real issues at stake. The many mistakes in the series could be excused, but from beginning to end there has been little trace of fairmindedness. The result is unworthy of the BMJ.

We were left with the uneasy feeling of a hidden agenda, particularly after …

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