WHO: Origin, Success, Criticism & COVID-19 Diplomacy

Written by: Hossain Azmal Pranta 
(General Member, DUMUNA)

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that works with global public health concerns. It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. United Nations declared 7th April, the foundation day of WHO as World Health Day. Since its genesis WHO played the role of a matchless fugleman to prevent the spreading of deadly zoonotic and transit diseases. Yet the recent outbreak of COVID-19 has confronted WHO before millions of questions and accusations. Has WHO really worked proficiently before or it was as staggering as it is now? How much of these accusations are veritable about WHO?

World Health Organization; Image Courtecy-who.int

Origins Story

To combat the spreading of epidemics like cholera, yellow fever and the bubonic plague European leaders met under one roof accepting the invitation of the French Government on 23 June 1851. This historical multilateral conference is known as the ‘1st International Sanitary Convention’. Since that conference after a series of successful meetings had paved the reformation of the ‘Pan-American Sanitary Bureau’ (1902) and the Office International d’Hygiène Publique (1907). After the First World War When the League of Nations was formed in 1920, it established a specialized wing for world health known as ‘The Health Organization of the League of Nations’.

In 1945’s United Nations Conference on International Organization, the Republic of China’s delegate Szeming Sze supported by Brazilian and Norwegian delegates submitted a proposal for creating an international health organization under the patronage of the newly formed United Nations. After the relentless exertion of diplomat Szeming Sze on 22 July 1946, the constitution of the World Health Organization was signed by 61 countries. Following that, on 7th April 1948, the World Health Organization finally came to on force.

Diplomats on discussion to create WHO; Image Courtesy- historypittsburg

Mechanism & Objectives

WHO has 194 member states. All UN members are eligible to receive WHO membership. The member states appoint delegations to the World Health Assembly which is WHO’s supreme legislative council. The World Health Assembly elects the head of the organization, the Director-General for 5 years term. To ensure regional operations successfully WHO established six regional divisions that were created between 1949-1952. The annual budget is foamed by the contributions from the member states and the private donors.

WHO headquarters at Geneva; Image Courtesy-who.int

The WHO’s is moved by its well determined constitution.  The core objective of WTO’s constitution is to attain the highest possible level of health of people. Some key Objectives of WHO are:

  • To act as the coordinating and directing authority on international health work
  • To co-ordinate and superintend the methods of health services across the globe.
  • To vindicate and sustain efficient cooperation with the United Nations and its specialized agencies, governmental health administrations, professional health aid groups.
  • To come with aids for any Governments, upon their request in order to strengthening health services.
  • to propagate advance work to eradicate endemic, epidemic, pandemic and other diseases
  • Raising awareness on deadly and unrecognized diseases, decreasing death rate and sufferings of pregnant mothers and new born babies.

Success Stories

After the Second World War in the second half of the 20th century, we saw remarkable gains and changes in world health. In such advancement WHO had played the most pivotal part by setting up health policies, providing technical assistance to all the member states of WHO. WHO played the role of the main protagonist to extend the durability of human life. Life expectancy rose from 48 years to 69 years from 1955-1985.Since the very beginning WHO engaged its all resources to take down the major deadly communicable diseases. 

Campaigns were waged against malaria, typhus, trachoma, yaws, and many other diseases. Beginning in the 1960s, WHO endeavored to prolong its health services to rural parts of the world. WHO spent almost 1 billion USD for vaccination worldwide to eliminate smallpox. Undisputedly it was humankind’s first-ever conquest over a deadly communicable disease. These initiatives helped WHO to terminate ancient epidemics.

Smallpox vaccine; Image Curtecy- steemit.com

In 1980 when HIV/AIDS was detected in North America, it soon became an epidemic to become a pandemic. WHO played a crucial role to control the spread out of HIV. WHO pressurized governments, development agencies, and the pharmaceutical industries to allow the price of AIDS treatment drugs to decrease $15,000 a year per patient in the industrialized countries and $350 in the developing countries. Later on, fighting against AIDS, many development agencies of the United Nations joined to form UNAIDS where WHO played the role of the leader.

Ebola Virus treatment; Image Courtesy- wto.int

On overcoming epidemics like Plague, Ebola virus chikungunya, cholera, Crimean-congo hemorrhagic fever, Influenza, Lassa fever, MERS-CoV, Nipah virus, SARS, Yellow fever, Zika virus WHO played the most crucial part by directing, training, and providing all sorts of technical supports. WHO has been working in warfare situations by reforming its working method in health emergencies. In Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Iraq, Syria WHO is on emergency missions

Controversies and Failures

Even after having so many success stories WHO appeared to be failed in some cases creating controversies. In the year of 1955, WHO declared the goal of the elimination of malaria disease. WHO spent millions of dollars on the project. Yet due to inefficient planning, the project didn’t succeed. In 1969 WHO recognized that the eradication program had failed. Though DDT was sprayed mosquitoes in many areas still lived, bred, and bit the victims. Some species were becoming resistant to DDT or changed their behavior. Malaria continues to be the world’s most damning parasite-borne disease and killing lives.

Malaria disease; Image Courtesy- medicalnewstoday

WHO allowed Taiwan to attend meetings and events of the World Health Organization as an observer state in between 2009-2016 but was forced to stop due to immense pressure from China. Taiwanese Journalists were even denied by WHO from participating in Press Conferences. Several times WHO failed to avoid diplomatic pressures from superpowers which led to the organization’s goals being unfulfilled.

Taiwanese Rally for joining WHO; Image Courtesy- qz.com

WHO secretariats and officers spend 192 million USD per year on traveling which costs more than its expenses tackling HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria, and Mental health problems combined. When proper medical aid in many parts of the world isn’t reaching sufficiently due to budget shortage, the WHO is spending millions on unnecessary traveling and luxury.

Covid-19 Crisis Management and Criticisms

Since the first cases were reported, WHO started working with Chinese authorities and global experts to know more about the newly founded virus. WHO continuously sought how the virus is transmitting, which part of the population is at risk, and the spectrum of the disease.

Covid-19 virus; Image Courtesy- unicef.org

Covid-19 Timeline

31 Dec 2019

Wuhan Municipal Health Commission of China reported about a cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan city of Hubei province. Eventually, a novel corona-virus was identified.

1 January 2020

WHO set up the Incident Management Support Team in the headquarter, regional headquarters and country level, calling the organization on an emergency for dealing with the outbreak.

4  January 2020

WHO reported on social media that there was a cluster of pneumonia cases but no deaths in Wuhan city of Hubei province, China.

5 January 2020

WHO published its first virus outbreak news.

10 January 2020

WHO issued a comprehensive technical guidance, advising all countries on how to detect it, test and manage potential cases based on experience of SARS, MERS and known modes of transmission of respiratory viruses.

12 January 2020

China publicly shared the genetic sequence of COVID-19.

13 January 2020

Officials confirm a case of COVID-19 in Thailand which was the first recorded case outside of China. 

14 January 2020

WHO reported in a press briefing that there might have been some human-to-human transmission of the Covid-19 which was mainly through family members. WHO also briefed that human-to-human transmission would not be surprising with the experience of SARS and other respiratory pathogens. 

22 January 2020

WHO’s investigation mission in China issued a statement that they found evidence of human-to-human transmission in Wuhan.

22- 23 January 2020

The WHO Director- General called for an Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations to assess whether the outbreak constituted a public health emergency of international concern.

28 January 2020

WHO delegation led by the Director-General visited Beijing to meet China’s leadership to learn more about China’s response to the crisis and to offer any technical assistance.

30 January 2020

WHO reported 7818 total confirmed cases worldwide.

 11 March 2020

WHO characterized Covid-19 as a pandemic.

18 March 2020

WHO launched clinical trial worldwide aiming to find the effective treatments and vaccine for Covid-19.

The WHO faced massive criticism from the United States of America president Mr. Donald Trump and his administration due to widespread effect and death toll caused by COVID-19. WHO warned USA that it was going to be the next epicenter of Covid-19 after Europe early and often. Though USA restricted traveling from China, it didn’t adopt emergency lockdown domestically. That decision eventually made USA an epicenter of Covid-19. Donald Trump accused WHO for its mismanagement dealing the Corona-virus pandemic and failing to make greatly needed reforms. He also blamed WHO for being prejudiced to China and informing about human to human transmission lately. Finally Trump administration announced to terminate its funding to WHO on May 29, 2020.

Trump criticizing WHO in a press conference; Image Courtesy- axios.com


WHO has been a benison to the developing and under developing nations. The WHO has played a leading role in several public health goal achievements. The eradication of epidemics and pandemics like the smallpox, polio and the development of an Ebola vaccine are highly notable deeds done by WHO. WHO has raised mass surveillance about communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and Ebola virus. WHO has been working to defeat non-communicable diseases like heart disease, cancer, food security, occupational health, healthy diet and nutrition. As a sister organization of United Nations, WHO has been always immensely adjuvant towards all the member states.      


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