What is World Health Day?

In 1950, the first World Health Day took place on April 7. It’s taken place every year since then. Who is behind World Health Day and what is its purpose? For over half a century, April 7 has meant more than only a single day. It’s an opportunity to assess what’s going on with the world’s healthcare and the most pressing issues related to health.

Who came up with World Health Day?

The World Health Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, is responsible for World Health Day. 61 countries have signed the WHO constitution. WHO works with these countries to support research and identify and deal with public health issues. It coordinates its efforts with governments, UN agencies, donors, NGOs, and the private sector. When it was first established, the WHO’s priorities included diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis, as well as women’s and children’s health.

Since its founding, the WHO has played a vital role in global health progress around the world. After the development of the polio vaccine, the organization facilitated global campaigns promoting it. In 1979, a long global smallpox vaccination campaign eliminated that disease. Over the next decades, the WHO shifted its priorities in response to HIV/AIDS and universal health coverage.

What is the purpose of World Health Day?

Since the WHO was established on April 7, 1948, it chose that day to recognize high-priority health issues. In addition to World Health Day, the WHO is in charge of the World Health Report and worldwide World Health Survey. The organization has seven other global health campaigns such as World Malaria Day, World Blood Donor Day, and World AIDS Day. A variety of governments and NGOs concerned with public health recognize World Health Day.

Each year, the WHO announces a different theme and organizes activities and resources based around it. Events can include public demonstrations, conferences, and briefings. Free or easier access to medical tests and educational displays for children are also used to recognize World Health Day.

Past World Health Day themes

The WHO has selected a wide variety of health themes for April 7 over the decades. Some of these include Global Polio Eradication (1995), Safe Mothermood (1998), International Health Security (2007), and Food Safety (2015). The same theme was chosen for both 2018 and 2019: Universal Health Coverage.

Universal health coverage: The WHO’s #1 goal

The WHO website defines universal coverage as healthcare for all without discrimination. All people have the right to access affordable health services that don’t push them into poverty. When healthcare access becomes linked by socio-economic status, it endangers people’s health and lives. Being forced to choose between healthcare, food, shelter, and other essentials is unjust.

It makes sense that the WHO would choose this issue in 2018 on the 70th anniversary of its establishment. Universal health coverage is the WHO’s top priority. Like all the WHO’s goals, success involves a variety of actors coming together. To increase health accessibility, governments need to invest in primary healthcare.

World Health Days of the future

Over the next few years, what will the WHO choose for its themes? The organization recently announced the 13 most serious health issues, so at least a few will likely end up as World Health Day themes. These global issues include:

Expanding vaccination and medicine access

Around ⅓ of the world’s population lacks access to good medicine and vaccines. This is because of factors like poverty. Making access a priority can improve the lives of millions of people.

Focusing on the health consequences of climate change

Climate change is one of this era’s most pressing concerns. It’s very important to consider the health impacts. Natural disasters and weather events like severe drought spread disease, increase hunger, and kill people. Air pollution is also a serious health issue.

Preventing antibiotic resistance

Antibiotics have saved countless lives since they first came into use, but resistance to them is deadly. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when viruses or bacteria become immune to antibiotics. Things like poor hygiene, unclean water, and overusing antibiotics can cause AMR. The best solution right now is to fund research into new antibiotics.

Restoring trust in the medical community

Medical misinformation is dangerous and very common. The anti-vaccine movement is arguably the most notorious example, but there are other reasons why people are losing trust in the medical community. Restoration of that trust one of the most important issues of the new decade for the WHO.

Why does World Health Day matter?

World Health Day provides an opportunity for governments, organizations, and individuals to learn more about significant health issues and spread awareness. Healthcare is a human right, but there are still millions around the world without life-saving medicines and services. Even in places where there is good healthcare, a person’s income can affect whether they’re able to access it. It’s important to remember that the goals driving World Health Day don’t end with April 7. World Health Day can spark lasting change.

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About the author


Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.