Brundtland, Gro Harlem (1939 – ) Norwegian Doctor, Former Prime Minister of Norway, Director-General of the World Health Organization

views updated

Gro Harlem Brundtland (1939 )
Norwegian doctor, former Prime Minister of Norway, Director-General of the World Health Organization

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland began serving a five-year term as Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) in July 1998. A physician and outspoken politician, Gro Harlem Brundtland had been instrumental in promoting political awareness of the importance of environmental issues. In her view, the world shares one economy and one environment . With her appointment to the head of WHO, Brundtland continued to work on global strategies to combat ill health and disease.

Brundtland began her political career as Oslo's parliamentary representative in 1977. She became the leader of the Norwegian Labor Party in 1981, when she first became prime minister. At 42, she was the youngest person ever to lead the country and the first woman to do so. She regained the position in 1986 and held it until 1989; in 1990 she was again elected prime minister. Aside from her involvement in the environmental realm, Brundtland promoted equal rights and a larger role in government for women. In her second cabinet, eight of the 18 positions were filled by women; in her 1990 government, nine of 19 ministers were women.

Brundtland earned a degree in medicine from the University of Oslo in 1963 and a master's degree in public health from Harvard in 1965. She served as a medical officer in the Norwegian Directorate of Health and as medical director of the Oslo Board of Health. In 1974 she was appointed Minister of the Environment, a position she held for four years. This appointment came at a time when environmental issues, especially pollution , were becoming increasingly important, not only locally but nationally. She gained international attention and in 1983 was selected to chair the United
Nation's World Commission on Environment and Development. The commission published Our Common Future in 1987, calling for sustainable development and intergenerational responsibility as guiding principles for economic growth. The report stated that present economic development depletes both nonrenewable and potentially renewable resources that must be conserved for future generations. The commission strongly warned against environmental degradation and urged nations to reverse this trend. The report led to the organization of the so-called Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, an international meeting led by the United Nation's Conference on Environment and Development.

Bruntland resigned her position as prime minister in October 1996. This was prompted by a variety of factors, including the death of her son and the possibility of appointment to lead the United Nations. Instead she was picked to head the World Health Organization, an assembly of almost 200 member nations concerned with international health issues. Brundtland immediately reorganized WHO's leadership structure, vowed to bring more women into the group, and called for greater financial disclosure from WHO executives. She began dual campaigns called "Rollback Malaria" and "Stop TB." She also launched an unprecedented campaign to combat tobacco use worldwide. Brundtland noted that disease due to tobacco was growing enormously. Tobacco-related illnesses already caused more deaths worldwide than AIDS and tuberculosis combined. Much of the growth in smoking was in the developing world, particularly China. Thus in 2000, WHO organized the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to come up with a world-wide treaty governing tobacco sale, advertising, taxation, and labeling. Brundtland broadened the mission of WHO by attempting the treaty. She was credited with making WHO a more active group, and with making health issues a major component of global economic strategy for organizations such as the United Nations and the so-called G8 group of developed countries. In 2002 Brundtland announced more new goals for WHO, including renewed work on diet and nutrition.

[William G. Ambrose and Paul E. Renaud ]



Brundtland, G.H. "Global Change and Our Common Future." Environment 31 (1989): 16-34.

. "The Globalization of Disease." New Perspectives Quarterly 16, no. 5 (Fall 1999): 17.

Kapp, Claire. "Brundtland Sets Out Priorities at Annual World Health Assembly." Lancet 359, no. 9319, (May 18, 2002): 1758.

McGregor, Alan. "Brundtland Launches New-Look WHO." Lancet 352, no. 9124 (July 25, 1998): 300.

"New Director-General Takes Over at WHO." World Health 51, no. 4 (July/August 1998): 3.

"The Tobacco War Goes Global." Economist (October 14, 2000): 97.

"A Triumph of Experience over Hope." Economist (May 26, 2001-June 1, 2001): 79.

About this article

Brundtland, Gro Harlem (1939 – ) Norwegian Doctor, Former Prime Minister of Norway, Director-General of the World Health Organization

Updated About content Print Article