Constitution of the World Health Organization, Chapters I and II

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Constitution of the World Health Organization, Chapters I and II

Journal article

By: World Health Organzation, Interim Commission

Date: October 1947

Source: World Health Organization, Interim Commission. "Constitution of the World Health Organization." Chronicle of the World Health Organization 1, no. 1/2 (October 1947): 29-30.

About the Author: The Commission of the World Health Organization (WHO) was established in 1946 to assume the functions of previous international health organizations and to oversee the transfer of their powers into the WHO. The commission organized the first World Health Assembly in 1948, with representatives and advisors from eighteen nations: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Great Britain, India, Liberia, Mexico, Norway, the Netherlands, Peru, Ukraine, U.S.A., USSR, Venezuela, and Yugoslavia. The commission was retired on August 31, 1948, after the establishment of the WHO.


The idea of international cooperation in public health dates to 1851, when the first in a series of international sanitary conferences was held in Paris. The inaugural convention sought to establish rules for the inspection and isolation, if necessary, of cargo ships and their crews. In response to rising concern over the spread of infectious diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever, and, especially, cholera, delegates argued the relative merits of quarantine over sanitation, and debated whether the most likely route of infection was person-to-person contagion or "miasmata"—toxic, airborne vapors. Although a consensus on quarantine policy was reached, the agreement was never officially adopted.

In 1903 the eleventh conference laid the groundwork for the first global health organization, the Office Internationale d'Hygiène Publique (OIHP), which was finally established in 1907. The League of Nations launched its Health Organization in 1920, and the two groups joined forces during World War II as the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), headquartered in Washington, D.C. After the war their work was taken over by WHO and the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

WHO emerged from the International Health Conference in 1946 and its constitution was signed on July 22 of that year. The First World Health Assembly convened on June 24, 1948, and its constitution was enacted on April 7, an anniversary now celebrated as World Health Day.



THE STATE parties to this Constitution declare, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations, that the following principles are basic to the happiness, harmonious relations, and security of all peoples:

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, political belief, economic, or social condition.

The health of all peoples is fundamental to the attainment of peace and security and is dependent upon the fullest co-operation of individuals and States.

The achievement of any State in the promotion and protection of health is of value to all. Unequal development in different countries in the promotion of health and control of disease, especially communicable disease, is a common danger.

Healthy development of the child is of basic importance; the ability to live harmoniously in a changing total environment is essential to such development.

The extension to all peoples of the benefits of medical, psychological and related knowledge is essential to the fullest attainment of health.

Informed opinion and active co-operation on the part of the public are of the utmost importance in the improvement of the health of the people.

Governments have a responsibility for the health of their peoples which can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures.

ACCEPTING THESE PRINCIPLES, and for the purpose of co-operation among themselves and with others to promote and protect the health of all peoples, the contracting parties agree to the present Constitution and hereby establish the World Health Organization as a specialized agency within the terms of Article 57 of the Charter of the United Nations.

Chapter I—Objective Article 1

The objective of the World Health Organization (hereinafter called the Organization) shall be the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.

Chapter II—Functions Article 2

In order to achieve its objectives, the functions of the Organization shall be:

(a) to act as the directing and co-ordinating authority on international health work;

(b) 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;

(c) to assist governments, upon request, in strengthening health services;

(d) to furnish appropriate technical assistance and, in emergencies, necessary aid upon the request or acceptance of governments;

(e) to provide or assist in providing, upon the request of the United Nations, health services and facilities to special groups, such as the peoples of trust territories;

(f) to establish and maintain such administrative and technical services as may be required, including epidemiological and statistical services;

(g) to stimulate and advance work to eradicate epidemic, endemic, and other diseases;

(h) to promote, in co-operation with other specialized agencies where necessary, the prevention of accidental injuries;

(i) to promote, in co-operation with other specialized agencies where necessary, the improvement of nutrition, housing, sanitation, recreation, economic, or working conditions, and other aspects of environmental hygiene;

(j) to promote co-operation among scientific and professional groups which contribute to the advancement of health;

(k) to propose conventions, agreements, and regulations, and make recommendations with respect to international health matters and to perform such duties as may be assigned thereby to the Organization and are consistent with its objective;

(l) to promote maternal and child health and welfare and to foster the ability to live harmoniously in a changing total environment;

(m) to foster activities in the field of mental health, especially those affecting the harmony of human relations;

(n) to promote and conduct research in the field of health;

(o) to promote improved standards of teaching and training in the health, medical and related fields;

(p) to study and report on, in co-operation with other specialized agencies where necessary, administrative and social techniques affecting public health and medical care from preventive and curative points of view, including hospital services and social security;

(q) to provide information, counsel, and assistance in the field of health;

(r) to assist in developing an informed public opinion among all peoples on matters of health;

(s) to establish and revise as necessary international nomenclatures of diseases, of causes of death and of public health practices;

(t) to standardize diagnostic procedures as necessary;

(u) to develop, establish, and promote international standards with respect to food, biological, pharmaceutical, and similar products;

(v) generally to take all necessary action to attain the objective of the Organization.


The WHO Constitution is an ambitious document, one that lays down a program of action for an interest common to all nations—public health. While WHO has a mission to aid developing countries, it is hampered by a limited budget and the inability to impose its will on member states. In addition, WHO does not provide health services directly, but advises, trains, researches, and funds a range of health programs within the dictates of its constitution. In its early days, the organization's focus was stratified into priorities. First were malaria, maternal and child health, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, nutrition, and sanitation; followed by improving public health administration; parasitic diseases; viral diseases; and finally, mental illness.

By 1968, WHO's focus had shifted somewhat. Because many newly independent nations, who had joined WHO as member states, were clearly in need of such support, WHO began providing more education and training to health staff, and gave more direct assistance to countries to enable them to develop their own public health programs. The group's initial priorities were—and continue to be—important.

WHO's most spectacular success has been the Intensified Smallpox Eradication Programme, a system of mass vaccinations launched in 1967. After a decade of intense international effort, the last naturally occurring case was recorded in Somalia in 1977. Similar programs for the eradication of diseases such as onchocerciasis (river blindness) and polio have made major progress as well. The malaria eradication program established in 1955, however, has been far less successful because of the lack—to date—of an effective vaccine.

New health challenges and priorities continue to emerge. In 1987, WHO and other UN organizations became part of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, a concerted international effort to confront and contain the global epidemic. The need for focus on noncommunicable diseases, especially those caused by tobacco and obesity, has become apparent as well. Finally, continuing inequalities in health care around the world prompted the organization to advance its "Health for All by the Year 2000" agenda in 1978, a program whose success, clearly, has been limited.

Critics say that WHO, like many large organizations, is inefficient and run badly. And at times, it is true, the group has sorely needed inspired leadership and sound management. Nevertheless, it has achieved much in its almost six decades of existence, and much work remains if they are to meet ongoing challenges in global public health.



Beigbeder, Yves, with Mahyar Nashat, Marie-Antoinette Orsini, and Jean-François Tiercy. The World Health Organization. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1998.

Web sites

Public Broadcasting Service. "The World's Doctor" (Air date: September 29, 2998). 〈http://〉 (accessed December 14, 2005).

University of Toronto. Faculty of Information Studies. "The World Health Organization Smallpox Eradication Programme." 〈〉 (accessed February 21, 2006).

World Health Organization. "WHO HIV/AIDS Programme." 〈〉 (accessed December 14, 2005).

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Constitution of the World Health Organization, Chapters I and II

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Constitution of the World Health Organization, Chapters I and II