50 Years of WHO




Member States


Areas of Work








50 Years of WHO in South East Asia

....Pre WHO Years The emergence of the World Health Organization




International Health Conference

The International Health Conference, which opened in New York on 19 June 1946, was inaugurated by Sir Ramaswami Mudaliar, President of ECOSOC. It had many ‘firsts’ to its credit. It was the first international conference with the word ‘health’ in it, all previous ones being called ‘sanitary’ conferences. It was also the first conference to be called by the World Health Organization.

The Constitution of world Health Organization was approved and signed by the 61 nations represented. An Interim Commission was formed to prepare for the first  World Health Assembly and to carry on the activities of the League of Nations Health Organization and United Nations Relief and Rehabiliation Administration (UNRRA)


WHO takes over from OIHP

The International Health Conference, held in june 1946, approved the termination of OIHP and for its functions to be taken over by WHO. It was, however, only on 15 November 1950 that all signatories of the 1907 Arrangement of Rome had notified their denunciations. With that final act, OIHP ceased to exist.

International Health Conference, New York, 16 June - 22 July 1946. Seated from left to right are : Mr Trygve Lie, U N secretary-general, sir Ramaswami Mudaliar and Mr Henri Laugier, Secretary of the Conference.


Transfer of functions

The other major international health organization existing before the Second World War was the League of Nations Health Organization. It was formed by the Assembly of the League of Nations in November-December 1920., to serve as the foundation of the new health organization together with OIHP. But OIHP refused to be absorbed into the League of Nations Health Organization, however, successfully carried out its activities covering a wide area, including epidemiological services, technical studies and advice on subjects such as nutrition, rural health and promotion of medical and public health education.

The International Health Conference also approved the trasfer of the functions of the League of Nations Health Organization to the WHO Interim Commission , and, later, to the World Health Organization.

WHO Interim Commission in session in Geneva, 1946

Dr A. Stampar of Yugoslavia, Chairman of the WHO Interim Commission and also the President of the First World Health Assembly.

WHO Interim Commission

The International Health Conference formed the Interim Commission for the World Health Organization on 19 July 1946, pending the coming into force of the Constitution. The Commission was composed of representatives from 18 states, including Dr C. Mani from India, who later became the first Regional Director of WHO’s South-East Asia Region. The Commission held its first meeting immediately after its appointment by the Conference.

The functions of the Interim Commission were: (a) to prepare for the permanent organization; (b) to carry out the statutory functions of the previous health organizations, e.g. epidemiological intelligence, and (c) to carry out emergency international health work.

The Commission met under the chairmanship of Dr F.G. Krotkov (USSR). Later, Dr A. Stampar (Yugoslavia) took his place. Dr Brock Chisholm (Canada) was elected the Executive Secretary of the Commission. Thereafter, the Interim Commission met in Geneva at approximate intervals of four months, holding five sessions in all, with an additional informal preparatory meeting just before the first World Health Assembly in June 1948.

It had been expected that the Interim Commission would complete its work in a matter of months, but delays in the ratification of the WHO Constitution prolonged its existence to nearly two years, from 22 July 1946 to 1 September 1948.

During this period, the Commission took over the duties of the earlier health organizations and became fully responsible for epidemiological services and for the administration of the International Sanitary Conventions. Work on biological standardization, international lists of diseases and causes of death, narcotic drugs and preparation of an international pharmacopoeia was resumed. It also took over UNRRA’s health work in 15 countries involving relief and rehabilitation in the field as well as prevention of epidemics, malaria, tuberculosis, venereal diseases control and nutrition.

To guide its work, the Commission established nine expert committees. A number of specialists from the South-East Asia Region were members of some of these committees.









The objective of the World Health Organization shall be "the attainment by all peoples of highest possible level of health".

(Article 1 of the constitution of WHO) 


The ‘Magna Carta’ of Health

The Constitution of the World Health Organization has been called the ‘Magna Carta’ of health. In its final form, it constitutes one of the most powerful instruments for international collaboration to enable man to improve his condition of life.

Concept of ‘Health’ in the Bill of Human Rights

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which met in Geneva in December 1947, incorporated in the Charter of Human Rights the following article:

"Everyone, without distinction as to economic and social conditions, has the right to the preservation of his health through the highest standards of food, clothing, housing and medical care which the resources of the State and community can provide. The responsibility of the State and community for the health and safety of its people can be fulfilled only by provision of adequate health and social measures."



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