World Health Organization (WHO)

The World Health Organization (WHO) is the United Nations' specialized agency for health and is headquartered in Geneva. Founded 7April 1948, it comprises 194 Member States. 

According to the Organization's Constitution, its goal is to attain the highest possible level of health for all people.  Its main mission is combating diseases and promoting the overall health of all people worldwide.

A central task of WHO is to develop and harmonise guidelines, standards and methods in health-related areas and to implement them globally. Important fields of action in this context are

  • the worldwide coordination of national and international activities in the fight against communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis and influenza,
  • the launch of global vaccination programmes and programmes to control health risk factors such as smoking or obesity,
  •  the regular collection and analysis of global data on health and disease,
  • supporting developing countries in setting up health care systems that are as effective and affordable as possible.

Headquartered in Geneva, WHO is grouped into six regions that are each managed by a Regional Office. In addition, it has more than 150 country offices and employs more than 7,000 staff. Its biennial budget currently totals nearly five billion USD. WHO is governed by the World Health Assembly (WHA), the highest decision-making body of WHO that is composed of all of the 194 Member States. In between the annual WHA meetings, the Executive Board made up of 34 government representatives is responsible for WHO’s governance. Germany is currently a Board member and a member of the WHO EURO region, whose regional office is based in Copenhagen (Denmark). 

Germany’s commitment within WHO

Germany has been a member of the World Health Organization since 1948. Its WHO membership provides a central frame of reference for Germany’s contribution to global health. Germany aims to support and strengthen WHO in accomplishing its tasks. Therefore, the Federal Government supports reforms within WHO that serve to enhance its structures and core competencies. Germany provides constructive input to WHO administrative bodies and, in 2018, was elected to WHO’s Executive Board through which it can play an active part in shaping the process of strengthening and focusing WHO until 2021.

Germany is one of the top donors among WHO’s Member States, both as regards assessed contributions and voluntary contributions.

Important WHO bodies and institutions

The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the World Health Organization’s supreme decision-making body. The WHA is comprised of all of the 194 Member States that convene in Geneva in May of each year. The discussions and resolutions help to establish WHO’s concepts for action and its budget and serve as important guidance for joint measures in pursuit of its public health priorities in the years to come.

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The WHO Executive Board consists of 34 government representatives. Member States are elected to the Board for a three-year term.

The Executive Board meets at least twice a year. The main Board meeting is usually held in January/early February and a second shorter one in May, immediately after the World Health Assembly. The main functions of the Executive Board are to prepare the decisions and policies of the World Health Assembly, to advise and to facilitate its work in general. 

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The Regional Committee for Europe is WHO’s highest decision-making body in the European Union. Its Member States adopt concepts, review the activities of the Regional Committee, deal with WHO’s draft Programme Budget and nominate the Regional Director for Europe. The Regional Director is appointed for a five-year term. Since February 2020, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge has held the office of Regional Director. His strategy is called “United action for better health”. This vision is broken down into four concrete priority areas: Tackling the main drivers of the disease burden, addressing the determinants of health, transforming public health and health systems to put people first and safeguarding all population groups. 

The Regional Committee is coordinated by the Regional Office. In all, WHO has six Regional Offices covering the following geographic regions: Africa, the Americas, South-East Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Western Pacific. The Regional Office for Europe has 53 member countries. Its main office is in Copenhagen (Denmark). In addition, the European Region is home to five technical centres and 30 country offices. 

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The World Health Organization does not have any research facilities of its own.  Instead, its work relies on a reference system of more than 800 national universities, institutions and research facilities in more than 80 countries. Thanks to this access to national expertise, knowledge can be integrated into international processes. The German WHO collaborating centres cover a wide array of topics, such as health systems strengthening and quality of drinking water.

The Federal Republic of Germany itself has a strong interest in this cooperation, since it partakes in the international research network via these institutes.

More information: Faktenpapier Kollaborationszentren (PDF-Datei: 581 KB)

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon (France) is part of the World Health Organization. It was established in 1965.

The four main tasks of the IARC are:

  • global surveillance of cancer trends
  • identifying the causes of cancer
  • elucidating the mechanisms of carcinogenesis (tumour development)
  • developing scientific cancer control strategies

IARC was founded in 1965 as an autonomous agency by the World Health Assembly. IARC’s research enjoys great renown and its findings and results serve as reference throughout the world.

IARC has a Governing Council and a Scientific Council. Germany holds a seat on the former.  Thanks to its wide-ranging activities, IARC is considered to be a catalyst for international progress against cancer. 

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On 5 May 2021, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced in Geneva that the early warning hub for pandemics in Berlin will start its work before the end of this year. The aim of the WHO hub (“Global WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence”) is to establish a global data ecosystem to provide decision-makers with timely information and relevant tools before, during and after epidemic and pandemic events.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the urgency of strengthening countries’ capacities for individual and joint prevention, identification of and response to epidemic and pandemic events. Despite important progress in this area in recent years, there remains a clear need for a more robust global early warning and response system with improved public health intelligence and interdisciplinary risk analysis. The WHO hub will expand and strengthen WHO and countries’ capacities to prevent, identify and respond to epidemic and pandemic risks. Using innovative analytical tools to process timely, high-quality and high-frequency data, the hub will provide decision-makers with action-oriented insights. The hub will offer a unique environment for innovation and development, attracting the smartest brains from a variety of disciplines and countries to work on the great challenges of coping with global health risks.

Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn, who was attending by video, pledged WHO Germany’s full support and advocated for further strengthening the World Health Organization. “We must now focus on the next crisis. Now is the time to act,” said Spahn.

>>Minister Spahn’s statement (Youtube WHO)<<

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