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The Unlikely Beginnings of a Global Institution


The Unlikely Beginnings of a Global Institution

The World Health Organization (WHO) may seem indispensable today, coordinating the global response to public health crises like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, the WHO was not created out of thin air – it took visionary leaders from diverse backgrounds to establish this unprecedented global health body.

A Meeting of Minds

Some critical thinkers who laid the groundwork for the WHO include medical scientists, international lawyers, and former government officials from several countries. They came together amid the devastation of World War II to discuss how to build a more cooperative and coordinated international health system. These included Brock Chisholm from Canada, who served as the first Director-General of the WHO, and Albert Johannes Wohlwend from Switzerland, a legal expert who contributed significantly to writing the WHO constitution.

Technical Foundations

These founders had to address complex technical and legal issues to create a functional international health organization. They developed the innovative concept of “health as a human right” and enshrined it in the WHO constitution. Legally defining health in this way made it a priority for international cooperation. The founders also had to determine the WHO’s governance structure, financing model, and approach for setting global health standards and guidelines. This groundwork transformed disparate national health systems into a cooperative global network.

A Legacy of Progress

Seventy-five years later, the WHO continues advancing the vision of its founders. Through its coordinated responses to outbreaks, campaigns to eliminate diseases, and efforts to achieve universal health coverage – the WHO helps countless lives worldwide. While more progress remains, the WHO founders left an enduring legacy by establishing humanity’s first united global organization for health. Their collaborative spirit continues guiding international cooperation on health for all people everywhere.


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