Under former Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland, two World Health Organization (WHO) periodicals--the World Health Forum and the World Health Statistics Quarterly--were incorporated into a bright new Bulletin. A position of editor-in-chief was created, and Brundtland appointed Dr Richard Feachem to lead the Bulletin's transformation as the "international journal of public health".
The stated aim of the World Health Forum, which was established in 1980 and echoed the Declaration of Alma-Ata in 1978, was "to give substance to the revolutionary idea of 'health for all' by the year 2000." It published accounts of field work and was oriented towards primary health care. The World Health Statistics Quarterly, formerly known as the World Health Statistics Report, published mainly epidemiological data.
These changes were reflected in the content of the new Bulletin as well as in its staff. Desmond Avery, a former editor of the World Health Forum later served as an Editorials/Reviews editor at the Bulletin. He recalls how "the new management argued that the new Bulletin would incorporate the World Health Forum, but in reality very little of the Forum approach was carried over."
With the absorption of some of the functions of these two publications, the Bulletin was targeted specifically to the public health community and it was expanded and redesigned to include "policy-relevant discussions" alongside the research papers that it had always published.
Under Brundtland and her senior managers Dr Julio Frenk and Dr Christopher Murray, the revamped 1999 Bulletin shifted from bimonthly to monthly publication and its articles were more rigorously peer reviewed. An editorial committee was established of WHO staff, representing a wide range of expertise and publishing experience. Despite some tensions, overall, the revamp was a success.
Avery remembers that "the change in 1999 was exciting for us because the new team under Brundtland wanted the Bulletin to compete with journals like the British Medical Journal, New England Journal of Medicine and the Lancet, whereas the traditional Bulletin was more focused on work going on in WHO and its programmes. With the new regime, there was a more energetic and ambitious atmosphere. At editorial meetings there was often well-informed and high-powered discussion about articles. It was refreshing as I had been working at an under-funded quarterly journal, which had not been getting much attention.
"Richard Feachem, when recruited as editor-in-chief, took the job seriously and was good at it. We used to get him on the telephone from San Francisco to lead the monthly editorial committee meetings. …