World Health Organization (WHO)

Organisation mondiale de la santé (OMS)
Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS)
منظمة الصحة العالمية
Всемирная организация здравоохранения

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1946-07-22 New York NY USA


Established on adoption of the Constitution signed by 61 states, 51 of which were also members of the United Nations. WHO Interim Commission -- Commission intérimaire de l'OMS was set up at the same time. Constitution entered into force on 7 Apr 1948, having been ratified by 26 UN member states, since which time 7th April each year is celebrated as World Health Day. First World Health Assembly met from 24 Jun to 24 Jul 1948, Geneva (Switzerland), and adopted an agreement whereby the World Health Organization, already a specialized agency established by intergovernmental agreement, was brought into relationship with the United Nations. The Interim Commission was superseded as from 1 Sep 1948. WHO is a a specialized agency of A-XA3375 - United Nations (UN) within F-XF1000 - United Nations System, linked to E-XE3377 - ECOSOC.

WHO continues the movement for international cooperation in health commenced in the 19th century with the first H-XH0176 - International Sanitary Conference, 1851, and subsequent similar conferences, at which international conventions were agreed. It took over: the peace-time aspects of the work of the Health Division of H-XH0988 - United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), set up in 1943; the functions of H-XH2289 - Office international d'hygiène publique (OIHP), set up 9 Dec 1907, Paris (France); the functions of H-XH0983 - Organisation d'hygiène de la Société des Nations, which had ceased to exist in 1939. World Health Declaration, adopted at the 51st Session, May 1998, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of WHO, includes recommitment to primary health care as defined in the 'Declaration of Alma Ata', adopted at International Conference on Primary Health Care, 6-12 Sep 1978, Alma Ata (USSR), and endorsed by resolution WHA 32.30 of the 32nd World Health Assembly, May 1979.


Constitution defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Article 1 of the Constitution states: 'The objective of WHO shall be the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health'. Consequent functions devolving from this aim to: (a) act as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work; (b) establish and maintain effective collaboration with the UN, specialized agencies, governmental health administrations, professional groups and other organizations as may be deemed appropriate; (c) upon request, assist governments in strengthening health services; (d) furnish appropriate technical assistance and, in emergencies, necessary aid, upon request or acceptance of governments; (e) provide or assist in providing, upon the request of the UN, health services and facilities to special groups, such as the people of trust territories; (f) establish and maintain such administrative and technical services as may be required, including epidemiological and statistical services; (g) stimulate and advance work to eradicate or control epidemic, endemic and other diseases; (h) in cooperation with other specialized agencies where necessary, promote the prevention of accidental injuries; (i) in cooperation with other specialized agencies where necessary, promote the improvement of nutrition, housing, sanitation, recreation, economic or working conditions and other aspects of environmental hygiene; (j) promote cooperation among scientific and professional groups which contribute to advancement of health; (k) propose conventions, agreements and regulations and make recommendations with respect to international health matters and perform such duties as may be assigned thereby to the Organization and are consistent with its objective; (l) promote maternal and child health and welfare and foster the ability to live harmoniously in a changing total environment; (m) foster activities in the field of mental health, especially those affecting the harmony of human relations; (n) promote and conduct research in the field of health; (o) promote improved standards of teaching and training in the health, medical and related professions; (p) in cooperation with other specialized agencies where necessary, study and report on administrative and social techniques affecting public health and medical care from preventive and curative points of view, including hospital services and social security; (q) provide information, counsel and assistance in the field of health; (r) assist in developing an informed public opinion among all peoples on matters of health; (s) establish and revise as necessary international nomenclatures of diseases, of causes of death and of public health practices; (t) standardize diagnostic procedures as necessary; (u) develop, establish and promote international standards with respect to food, biological, pharmaceutical and similar products; (v) in general, take all necessary action to attain the objective of the Organization.


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World Health Assembly (annual, normally in Geneva - Switzerland) comprises delegates representing member states and is attended by such observers as intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations in official relations with WHO. Executive Board (2 sessions a year, normally in January and May, both normally in Geneva) is composed of 32 persons, each designated by a member state. Officers: Director-General, appointed by the Assembly on a nomination made by Executive Board; Regional Directors appointed by Executive Board in agreement with the respective regional committees. All other staff members are appointed by the Director-General. Secretariat comprises the Director-General and technical and administrative personnel.

/Headquarters Structure/:

'Director-General's Office (DGO)':

  • Director-General (DG) with Advisers;
  • Media and Communications (MAC);
  • Office of Internal Oversight Services (IOS), comprising: Evaluation and Performance Audits (AEP); Operational Audits (AOP);
  • Office of the Legal Counsel (LEG), comprising: Commercial and Contractual Matters (CCM); Governing Bodies and Public International Law (GBI); Personnel and Administrative Matters (PAM);
  • Office of the Ombudsmen (OMB).

'Director-General's Representatives (DGR)':

  • Health Action in Crises (HAC), comprising; Emergency Health Intelligence and Capacity Building (EHC); Emergency Health Partnerships (EHP); Polio Eradication Initiative (POL);
  • Representatives of the Director-General.


'Communicable Diseases (CDS)':

  • Communicable Diseases Control, Prevention and Eradication (CPE), comprising: Strategy Development and Monitoring for Eradication and Elimination (CEE); Strategy Development and Monitoring for Parasitic Diseases and Vector Control (PVC); Strategy Development and Monitoring of Zoonoses, Foodborne Diseases and kinetoplastidae (ZFK).
  • Communicable Disease Surveillance and Response (CSR), comprising: CSR Office for Alert and Response Operations (ARO), consisting of Risk Assessment and Field Operations (AFO), Emerging and Dangerous Pathogens (EDP) and Epidemic Readiness and Intervention (ERI); Global Influenza Programme (GIP); CSR Office in Lyon (France) (LYO), consisting of Epidemiology Strengthening (EPS) and Laboratory Training and Capacity Strengthening (LAB).
  • Public Health Mapping and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) - F-XF7414 - UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) (TDR), comprising: Intervention Development and Evaluation (IDE); Programme Planning and Management (PPM); Product Research and Development (PRD); Research Capability Strengthening (RCS); Basic and Strategic Research (STR).
  • WHO Mediterranean Centre for Vulnerability Reduction (WMC), comprising: Social Mobilization and Training (SMT).

'External Relations and Governing Bodies (EGB)':

  • Governance (GOV), comprising: Documentation and Communications (DCM); Coordination with the UN and other Intergovernmental Agencies (UNI); Word Processing Centre (WPC).
  • Government, Civil Society and Private Sector Relations (GPR), comprising: Civil Society Initiative (CSI); Governmental Agencies and Foundations (GVF); Private Sector (PVS).

'Evidence and Information for Policy (EIP)':

  • Health Systems Financing, Expenditure and Resource Allocation (FER), comprising: Choosing Interventions - Effectiveness, Quality, Costs, Gender and Ethics (EQC); Designing Policy Options - Financing, Resource Allocation, Regulation and legislation (FAR);
  • Human Resources for Health (HRH), comprising: Bulletin of the WHO (BLT);
  • Knowledge Management and Sharing (KMS), comprising: Library and Information Networks for Knowledge (LNK); WHO Press (WHP); Knowledge Communities and Strategy (KCS); WHO Web Team (WEB); e-Health (EHL);
  • Measurement and Health Information Systems (MHI), comprising; Classification, Assessment, Surveys and Terminology (CAS); Assessing Health Needs - Epidemiology and Burden of Disease (EBD); Research Policy and Cooperation (RPC); Health System Policies and Operations (SPO).

'Family and Community Health (FCH)':

  • Gender (GMS);
  • Child and Adolescent Health and Development (CAH), comprising; Adolescent Health and Development (ADH); Child Health and Development (CHD); Neonatal and Infant Health and Development (HNI); Technical Support Team (TST);
  • Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals (IVB), comprising: Access to Technologies (ATT); Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI); Initiative for Vaccine Research (IVR), consisting of Research on Bacterial Vaccines (BAC), Parasitic and other Pathogens Vaccine Research (POP) and WHO-UNAIDS HIV Vaccine Initiative (HVI); Quality Assurance and Safety - Biologicals (QSB); Vaccine Assessment and Monitoring (VAM);
  • Reproductive Health and Research (RHR):
  • Communication, Advocacy and Information (CAI); Clinical Trials and Informatics Support (CTI); Gender Issues and Reproductive Rights (GRR); Implementing Best Practices (IBP); Monitoring and Evaluation (MAE); Promoting Family Planning (PFP); Policy and Programmatic Issues (PPI); Preventing Unsafe Abortion (PUA); Controlling Sexually Transmitted and Reproductive Tract Infections (STI); Technical Support Team (TCC).
  • Gender and Women's Health (GWH).

'General Management (GMG)':

  • Management Reform;
  • Headquarters Board of Appeal (HBA);
  • International Computing Centre (ICC);
  • Staff Association (STF);
  • Office of the Comptroller (CBF), comprising:
  • Accounts (ACT); Administration and Finance Information Support (AFI); Budget Implementation (BUI); Treasury and Risk Management (TSY), consisting of Treasury Operations (TSO) and Treasury Services (TSS);
  • Human Resources Services (HRS), comprising; Policy Development (HPD); Recruitment, Placement and Classification (HRC); Staff Development and Training (SDL);
  • Infrastructure and Logistics Services (ILS), comprising;
  • Contracting and Procurement Services (CPS), consisting of Computer and Office Supplies (COP), Drugs and Biological Procurement (DBP), Environmental and Medical Procurement (ESP), Laboratory Supplies (LSP) and Hospital and Teaching Supplies (THP);
  • Infrastructure Support Services (ISS), consisting of Building and Premises Management (BPM), Records and Archives (RAS) and Space Planning and Accommodation (SPA);
  • Logistics Support Services (LSS), consisting of: Conference and Events Coordination (CEC), including Conference and Meeting Planning (CMP), Special Events and Exhibitions (SEE) and Usher Services (USS); Pre-Press and Print Production Services (PPS), including Document Production Services (DPS), Graphic Design and Layout (GRA) and Printing Services (PRT); Travel;
  • Transportation and Despatch Services (TDS), including Distribution Service (DST), Goods Receipt and Despatch (GRD), Mailing (MLG), Transportation (TRN) and Travel (TRV);
  • Premises Security (PSS);
  • Information Technology and Telecommunications (ITT), comprising; Management Information System (MIS); Networking and Telecommunications (NTS); Security, Web and Architecture (SWA); Telecommunications (TMS), including Audiovisual and Training Team (AVT); User Support and Training (USP);
  • Planning, Resource Coordination and Performance Monitoring (PRP);
  • Security and Staff Services (SES), comprising; Health and Medical Services (HMS), including Staff Counsellor (SCO); Personnel Support Services (PSU), consisting of Contact Administration Support (CSA), Pension (PEN) and Staff Orientation Service (SOS); Staff Security (SEC); Staff Financial Services (SFS), consisting of Claims Examination (CLX); Staff Insurance (INS) and Payroll (PAY);
  • Management Support Unit (MSU - CDS and HTM);
  • Management Support Unit (MSU - EGB and SDE);
  • Management Support Unit (MSU - EIP and NMH);
  • Management Support Unit (MSU - FCH and HTP);
  • Management Support Unit (MSU - GMG).

'HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria (HTM)':

  • HIV/AIDS (HIV), comprising: AIDS Medicine and Diagnostics Service (AMD); Partnerships, External Relations and Communication (PEC); Strategic Information and Research (SIR), Treatment and Prevention Scale-up (TPS);
  • Roll Back Malaria (RBM), comprising: Monitoring and Evaluation Team (RME); Roll Back Malaria Partnership Secretariat (RPS); Strategy and Operations Team (RSO);
  • Stop TB Department (STB), comprising: Stop TB Partnership Secretariat (TBP); TB Strategy and Operations (TBS); TB/HIV and Drug Resistance (THD); Tuberculosis Monitoring and Evaluation (TME);
  • Strategic Planning and Innovation (SPI).

'Health Technology and Pharmaceuticals (HTP)':

  • Essential Drugs and Other Medicines (EDM), comprising: Drug Action Programme (DAP); Policy, Access and Rational Use (PAR); Quality Assurance and Safety - Medicines (QSM); Traditional Medicine (TRM);
  • Essential Health Technologies (EHT), comprising: Blood Transfusion Safety (BTS); Clinical Procedures (CPR); Devices and Clinical Technology (DCT); Diagnostic Imaging and Laboratory Technology (DIL); Quality and Safety of Plasma Derivatives and Related Substances (QSD).

'Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health (NMH)':

  • Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion (CHP), comprising: Health Promotion (HPR); Chronic Diseases Prevention and Management (CPM); Surveillance and Information for Policy (SIP);
  • Management of Noncommunicable Diseases (MNC), comprising: Health Care (CCH); Chronic Respiratory Diseases and Arthritis (CRA); Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD); Diabetes Mellitus (DIA); Human Genetics (HGN); Blindness and Deafness (PBD); Programme on Cancer Control (PCC);
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse (MSD), comprising: Management of Mental and Brain Disorders (MBD); Mental Health - Evidence and Research (MER); Mental Health Policy and Service Development (MPS); Management of Substance Abuse (MSB);
  • Nutrition for Health and Development (NHD), comprising: Food Aid for Development (FAD);
  • Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN);
  • Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI), comprising: T-XT0309 - WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and T-XT1218 - Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products; National Capacity (NAC);
  • Injuries and Violence Prevention (VIP), comprising: Disability and Rehabilitation (DAR); Prevention of Violence (PVL); Unintentional Injuries Prevention (UIP).

'Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments (SDE)':

  • Cooperation and Country Focus (CCO), including: Country Analysis and Support (ASC);
  • Coordination of Macroeconomics and Health support unit (CMH);
  • Ethics, Trade, Human Rights and Health Law (ETH);
  • Food Safety (FOS);
  • MDGs, Health and Development Policy (HDP), including: Pro-Poor Health Policies (PHP);
  • Protection of the Human Environment (PHE), comprising: Occupational and Environmental Health (OEH); ILO, UNEP and WHO programme F-XF0185 - International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) (PCS); Radiation and Environmental Health (RAD); Water, Sanitation and Health (WSH).

/Regional Organizations/:

As provided for in the Constitution, 6 regional organizations are responsible for cooperation with governments and with areas geographically defined by the Assembly. Each comprises a Regional Committee (usually meeting once a year), composed of representatives of members and associate member states in the region, and a Regional Office headed by a Regional Director.

/Technical Advice/:

'Advisory Committee on Health Research', comprising 15 members. It is the highest level scientific advisory body in the WHO and provides the Director-General with the scientific advice in relation to WHO's research programmes.

'Expert Advisory Panels' (54), comprising a total of about 950 members. These are groups of experts conversant with all branches of knowledge and form of experience needed to cover adequately particular subjects relevant to the Organization.

K-XK1314 - WHO Centre for Health Development, Kobe (WKC) - the first of a network of centres undertaking research in close collaboration with other institutes in both developed and developing countries, results being widely disseminated.

E-XE3549 - International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) - coordinates and conducts research on the causes of human cancer, the mechanisms of carcinogenesis and develops scientific strategies for cancer control. It is engaged in both epidemiological and laboratory research and disseminates scientific information through publications, meetings, courses and fellowships.

U-XF5821 - VISION 2020 - The Right to Sight - launched 16 Feb 1999, Geneva, by WHO Director-General, unites intergovernmental, nongovernmental and private organizations in making an international concerted effort to significantly reduce blindness worldwide, in particular to eliminate preventable blindness by the year 2020.

WHO Collaborating Centres - scientific institutions, such as universities and national health institutes (currently over 800), which provide research, training and assessment support on specific topics.


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Relations with Inter-Governmental Organizations

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Relations with Non-Governmental Organizations

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Type I Classification

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Type II Classification

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Subjects *

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UN Sustainable Development Goals **

GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal



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* Subject classification is derived from the organization names and aims.
** UN SDGs are linked to the subject classification.

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