WHO: Co-ordinating and directing international health work.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations, with primary responsibility for international health matters and public health.

In 1945, the United Nations Conference on International Organization, meeting in San Francisco, unanimously approved a proposal by Brazil and China to establish an autonomous international health organization within the United Nations system. The following year, an international conference held in New York set up an Interim Commission and approved the Constitution of the World Health Organization.

The Constitution came into force on 7 April 1948. Since then, 7 April of every year is celebrated as World Health Day, when attention all over the world is focused on a chosen theme of international public health interest.

The objective of WHO is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.

Its functions, as stipulated in the Constitution include:

â to act as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work;

â to establish and maintain effective collaboration with the United Nations, specialized agencies, governmental health administrations, professional groups and such other organizations as may be deemed appropriate;

â to assist Governments, upon request, in strengthening health services


WHO’s current strategic priorities, which are consistent with the principles of health for all, are:

  • Communicable diseases
  • Non-communicable diseases
  • Sustainable development and healthy environments
  • Health systems and community health
  • Evidence and information for policy
  • Health technology and pharmaceuticals
  • Social change and mental health
  • External relations and governing bodies
  • General management


Nigeria became a party to the Constitution of WHO on 25 November 1960, and signed the Basic Agreement with the Organization on 27 March 1962.

In addition to its headquarters in Lagos, WHO, in its efforts to take its services nearer to the people, created four zonal liaison offices in the country in 1997. The offices are in Enugu (A Zone); Ibadan (B Zone); Federal Capital Territory, Abuja (C Zone); and Bauchi (D Zone). It also operates an office in Kaduna (C Zone).

WHO’s technical cooperation programme with the Government of Nigeria, through the Federal Ministry of Health, focuses on the following priority areas of work, for the 2000 – 2001 biennium.

  • Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Response, which focuses on strengthening integrated disease surveillance of EPI targeted diseases, and setting up an integrated epidemiological surveillance for early detection and response to epidemic prone diseases and other communicable diseases.
  • Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control of activities, which includes strengthening of routine immunization, Malaria Control under the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) initiative and application of Directly Observed Treatment Short-course (DOTS) for treatment of tuberculosis. Others are support for the control of Onchocerciasis, Schistosomiasis, HIV/AIDS and phased implementation of Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses (IMCI) approach at district level.
  • Communicable Diseases Eradication and Elimination of Poliomyelitis, Dracunculiasis, Leprosy and Neonatal Tetanus, which would receive intensified support with a view to achieving the global targets set for their eradication or elimination.
  • Communicable Diseases Research and Development, aimed at strengthening the National Health Management Information System, building institutional capacity to provide evidence and information for use in planning and management of quality health services.
  • Prevention, Management and Surveillance of Non-Communicable Diseases, which focuses on development of effective surveillance systems, early diagnosis and treatment of diabetes, hypertension and other Non-Communicable Diseases, including collection of information on associated risk factors for development and testing of preventive strategies.
  • Health Systems and Community Health being strengthened through promotion of an integrated approach to health care, focusing on high quality of care for children, adolescents and women. Greater emphasis is being given to strengthening human resources development for health at all levels, by enhancing capacity of training institutions of various cadres of health workers to deliver effective health care services.
  • Sustainable Development and Healthy Environment through which activities under Nutrition for health and development; Protection of the Human environment; and Emergency and humanitarian action are supported.
  • Social Change and Mental Health which provides support for health promotion and mental health
  • Evidence and Information for Policy, through which data and information are collected and disseminated to enhance decision-making and to promote healthy behaviour.
  • Health technology and Pharmaceuticals through which support is being given to ensure availability of good quality drugs and promoting their rational use. Technical support is being provided to put in place effective drug management, monitoring and evaluation system. Community co-management of health resources at district level is being encouraged to enhance sustainability.

As a specialized agency, WHO has come a long way and made considerable inroads into national health programmes, in spite of its resources= constraints. It has maintained a dynamic leadership role in providing A constant stimulus to the thoughts and actions on difficult public health problems by daring to innovate in the face of conventional wisdom@.