On April 7, 1948—75 years ago—the World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution came into force, launching the global health body that had been planned during the 1945 formation of the United Nations.
Since then, every April 7 is World Health Day. The theme for this year’s special anniversary is Health for All, which emphasizes health as a basic human right. Beyond humanity, the WHO’s focus on One Health also gives great importance to the health of animals and nature.
It’s a big responsibility, and the WHO has been hard at work.
“Over the past seven and a half decades, there has been extraordinary progress in protecting people from diseases and destruction, including smallpox eradication, reducing the incidence of polio by 99%, saving millions of lives through childhood immunization, declines in maternal mortality and improving health and well-being for millions more,” according to a World Health Day announcement.
But the inequalities of health care mean there is more to do, according to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “We continue to face vast inequities in access to health services, major gaps in the world’s defenses against health emergencies, and threats from health harming products and the climate crisis,” he said.
As WHO focuses on equity, it emphasizes some key messages, including:
- About 30% of the global population is not able to access essential health services.
- For almost 2 billion people, the cost of health spending is catastrophic or impoverishing.
- Universal health coverage for all would offer financial protection and access to quality essential services.
- Achieving health for all means individuals and communities need access to high-quality health services for themselves and their families.
- Health systems powered by a primary health care approach provides is the most efficient and cost-effective care.
The importance of One Health
Given the interconnection between the health of humans, animals, and the environment, World Health Day is also a day to be aware of One Health, which treats all three holistically.
The WHO joined other U.N. agencies last week in calling for united global policy on One Health.
In the United States, one recent effort to address One Health is contained in the 2023 Omnibus spending act, which mandates a One Health Framework by the Department of Health and Human Services, working with the USDA “to address zoonotic diseases and advance public health preparedness.”
A major One Health concern is zoonotic diseases that jump species and include COVID-19, which is also a threat to animals. Thus far, avian flu has not spread widely in humans, but it is being closely watched.
Environmental health is also a concern, as climate change has been shown to aggravate human pathogenic diseases.
Appropriate regulation can help biotech address these challenges, as a BIO brief explains.