The World Health Organization: School Health Initiatives

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The World Health Organization: School Health Initiatives

Although the United Nations often is viewed as an organization focusing almost entirely on the political issues confronting its member nations, it is more properly viewed as an umbrella under which a family of organizations operates. Because of its visibility and its potential to influence health education and health promotion practice, school health personnel should understand how the World Health Organization (WHO) and related United Nations agencies have developed. Many of these agencies, such as WHO, UNICEF, and UNESCO, have a direct or indirect impact on the health status of most of the world's inhabitants. This article reviews the way in which these organizations have contributed to health education and health promotion by examining some important events that have occurred during the past five decades and, in particular, examines the participation and influence of the WHO in planning, conducting, and evaluating school health education.

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF WHO

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

The World Health Organization has prospered and grown in its 40-year history. [1-3] Its infancy, the first decade, was marked by a world that had lived through nearly a decade of war -- and the impact on health was staggering. The status of the world's health could be characterized by infectious diseases in an arena lacking standards for dealing with such diseases. This then became a priority.

WHO's childhood -- its second decade -- occurred in a world of rapid change. Nations were being created where none existed and a need to develop mechanisms to ensure appropriate access to health care was imperative. This resulted in a need to train health care workers and collaborate with global partners that could help ensure access to needed facilities and services. During this period, WHO also began to emerge as a leader among those interested in health. WHO was able to facilitate adequate communication of information as well as to guide and support the creation of new information about health and disease.

The adolescent years of its third decade were marked with a historic first -- the mobilization of resources that would result in the eradication of a major human disease. In 1967, smallpox was epidemic in 31 countries worldwide, yet 1977 was to mark identification of the last case. [1] Through this decade, other major initiatives were developed, from working toward universal childhood immunization to programs on family planning, malaria control, and intensified activities on tropical diseases.

As WHO emerged as a mature organization in its fourth decade, it entered adulthood with a new commitment that would serve as the rudder for its activities through the end of the century -- Health For All by the Year 2000. [4-8] In adopting resolution WHO30.43 in 1977, the World Health Assembly launced an unprecedented initiative declaring that the main social targets of governments and the WHO should be "the attainment of all citizens of the world by the year 2000 of a level of health that will permit them to lead a socially and economically productive life."

In 1978, WHO and UNICEF sponsored a meeting of delegates from 134 nations in Alma Ata, Kazakstan, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, to define the principles of primary health care and the role of governments and national and international organizations in supporting its development. [9-12] The Alma Ata declaration stated that primary health care is the key to attaining "Health for All" and suggestd that among other things, it includes education about prevailing health problems and methods of preventing and controlling them. Moreover, when appropriately conceived and implemented, primary health care requires and promotes maximum community and individual self-reliance and participation in planning, organizing, operating, and controlling primary health care. …