History, at least as it relates to international organizations, is often made in anonymous meeting rooms that look a bit the same all over the world. Indeed, the conception of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization was as ordinary as its subsequent achievements as a scientific journal are remarkable.
Over the past 60 years, the Bulletin has become synonymous with WHO but in 1946 it was merely one item on the agenda of meetings of the Interim Commission, which was charged with establishing a new United Nations international health agency.
The commission met over the period 1946-48, once in New York and several times in Geneva.
When the Bulletin appeared in January 1948, the Interim Commission had high hopes for the new publication. "There would seem to be no reason why the Bulletin should not ultimately take its place among leading medical journals of the world," the Interim Commission said, in its supplementary report to the First World Health Assembly of June to July 1948.
Within the first 10 years, the new journal had firmly established itself as an authoritative source of international medical and public health information. Its stated goal was "to advance the work of the organization by bringing to the knowledge of medical and public-health workers articles of international significance on subjects within the scope of WHO's interests and activities."
Sixty years later, the Bulletin has taken its place among the world's leading health journals. In 2006, the journal achieved an impact factor of five, placing it fifth in the ISI Web of Knowledge's category of the most cited public, environmental and occupational health journals.
The Bulletin of the World Health Organization was originally conceived as a monthly periodical. In as much as WHO evolved from l'Office international d'hygiene publique (OIHP), which was established in 1907, and from the League of Nations set up in 1919, the new journal's form and content were largely based on elements of two predecessors: the Bulletin mensuel de l'Office international d'hygiene publique and the Bulletin of the League of Nations Health Organization.
At the First World Health Assembly, the Interim Commission envisaged that the new journal--the first two issues of which had already appeared--would benefit from "ready access to experts of all countries" working at WHO and that its subject matter would be "concerned with health problems ... of prime importance."
Although publication of the first issue actually predates WHO by a few months, the Bulletin also turns 60 this year. And, just like WHO itself, the Bulletin has undergone various transformations. The history of the Bulletin is as multifaceted as the organization itself: it has roots in older pre-WHO publications, has expanded its scope and content, and subsumed other journals to reach a wider audience.
The Bulletin you read today is the result of a 60-year evolution from the "principal scientific organ of the WHO" to the "international journal of public health". …