The Role of International Agencies


The number of international agencies across the world is escalating rapidly courtesy of globalization. With globalization and global warming, the need for better health care systems is paramount as the status of health of individuals across the world is deteriorating due to the repercussions of globalization and global warning (Kickbusck 1520). International agencies are important in the running of international affairs across the world because they boost the world’s economy through promoting different economic sectors and responding to the rapid global changes. For instance, the WHO responds to health problems especially the polio epidemic, which is still prevalent in some third world countries. The WHO is one of many international agencies as well as the premier international health organization. This paper will discuss the background of the World Health Organization, its role in health care, its strengths and weaknesses, funding and management structure and the criticisms leveled by the other like-minded international organizations against this important organization.

Background information of the WHO

The World Health Organization “is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nation system” (Burci and Vignes 52). The organization also assumes the leadership role of giving aid and advice across the world, research on health care issues, formulating policies on healthcare administration, monitoring and evaluation of the initiated projects like Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and coordinating health-related matters like the WHO International Sanitary Regulations across the world. The WHO is an affiliated agency working under the UN, which is concerned with international public health. Its “policies and programs have a far-reaching impact on the status of international public health and defined by its constitution as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work, WHO aims at the attainment of the highest possible standard of health by all people across the nations of the world” (Siddiqi 64).

The role of the World Health Organization in health care

Ultimately, the WHO seeks to create access to quality healthcare for all people across the world by eliminating disparities in health care access, which is evident in developing countries. Another function of the WHO is organizing health-service delivery reforms. For instance, a while ago people used to receive vaccination and treatment against polio from referral hospitals, especially in developing countries, but now due these reforms, polio vaccinations are availed in communities through mobile clinics (Burci and Vignes 118). Another aspect to achieving the WHO’s goals in healthcare is integrating international standards into the health sector across the world by pursuing different models of policy dialogue like collaborating with governments. This move seeks to create awareness regarding outbreaks of diseases like cholera. Lastly, the WHO works to increase government and non-governmental partnerships, for instance by funding governments and NGOs to achieve a certain goal like immunizing all children under the age of 5 years with the polio vaccine in a given country (Burci and Vignes 118). For instance, in Kenya, the WHO has been extensively involved in providing financial support and coordinating projects in a campaign dubbed “Kick Polio out of Kenya”, which seeks to eliminate the threat of polio in the country.

One of the many primary areas, which the WHO has worked on since its establishment, is disease prevention and one of its notable successes has been the fight against small pox. “Small pox is a highly infectious disease that causes severe scarring and blindness, and, in as many as 30% of cases, death “(Siddiqi 152). Despite having been discovered in 1796, the small pox vaccine had not reached many countries across the world until 1967 when the WHO launched a multi-million dollar global vaccination campaign (Ryan 526). Moreover, the WHO launched a campaign against polio in 1988 with the goal of eradicating the disease by the year 2005 even though this goal was not achieved; the impact of the campaign was felt by reducing the prevalence by almost half across the world (Jacobs 48). Poliomyelitis is highly infectious and it can cause paralysis within hours, but the WHO has made tireless efforts to control this menace, which mostly afflicts children under the age of five years.

The organization has established six core functions to achieve its goals. These functions include “providing leadership on matters critical to health and engaging in partnerships where joint action is needed and shaping the research agenda and stimulating the generation of valuable knowledge, setting norms and standards, promoting and monitoring their implementation and articulating ethical and evidence based options” (Lee 142). Other functions include providing technical support for healthcare provision, catalyzing change coupled with building sustainable institutional capacity and lastly monitoring the health situation and addressing health trends around the world (Kickbusck 1518). This set of functions that are set out in the eleventh general program of the WHO has given the organization an added advantage as an actor in the international arena. In addition to the above functions, the WHO provides assistance ranging from the routine expert advice on numerous health issues to life saving interventions in the lethal cholera epidemics among Rwandan refugees in Ghana and Zaire and in other developing regions (Siddiqi 183). The WHO is continuing to help developing countries to establish primary health care systems and build up the health infrastructures that they urgently need.

The World Health Organization Achievements

The latter years of the 20th century heralded improved health care delivery courtesy of technology, which helped scientists to come up with novel approach to research and thus improved service delivery. Technology has really improved health care services. The availability of computers and the Internet makes it easier for research on issues relating to health. A lot of time was wasted when people had to travel over long distances to access information stored in print form. Currently this time and resources are utilized well because technology is allowing people to access all the data needed through the Internet hence being able to curb the prevailing problem on time. The WHO has been the central player in laying down guidelines on healthcare provision for all countries coupled with providing technical support towards the achievement of global health growth. For instance, life expectancy improved considerably coupled with the same trend in child mortality rate due to the successful curbing of life threatening diseases that affect children the most (Siddiqi 183). Notably, smallpox, which affected people of all ages and had established itself as ‘the ancient scourge’, has disappeared. Other achievements include “the control of lice-borne typhus and yaws, polio and guinea worms and with universal salt iodization in place, the prospect of virtually eliminating iodine deficiency disorders (IDD), which is the major cause for brain damage among young children, is also in sight” (Siddiqi 184).

Challenges to the World Health Organizations

It is important to note that WHO has faced some challenges in its area of operation just like any other organization. Poverty is still a major sprawling concern across the world especially in under developed countries. Consequently, the number of individuals who cannot access decent medical services has hit the one billion mark (Burci and Vignes 160), which should be a worrying trend to the WHO given that the organization seeks to cut such figures to infinitesimal levels in the future. “One out of every five persons in the world has no access to safe drinking water and infectious diseases alone account for 13 million deaths a year, most of them in the developing countries” (Burci and Vignes 163). Regrettably, seventy percent of the poor are women who are also marginalized economically and thus they cannot afford quality health care services. The probability of a pregnant woman in third world countries dying during delivery is over 500 times as great compared to expectant mothers in developed countries, which underscores the disparities of health care access across the world (Kickbusck 1519).

Generally, the world is becoming a “consuming world” and thus the few productive sectors like agriculture and natural resources, for example, oil and gas are highly exploited. This trend is dangerous because it leads to excessive pollution via exploitation and degradation of natural resources due to increased consumption by the increasing world population. This exploitation and degradation occurs when the population is larger than the available resources will support and people have to till the land exhaustively leaving the land infertile. Fertilizers are then applied to make the soil rich again and extensive use of pesticides has led to pollution of the environment. Ultimately, global warming is becoming a reality and its health consequences are evident in contemporary society. Free market policies coupled with fast-spreading capitalism has heralded globalization of trade, which allows access to harmful commodities like tobacco and other legal and illegal drugs, hence the ever-deteriorating health status across the world (Kickbusck 1520). Through free market policies, people are free to transport marijuana from one country to another especially in developing countries where corruption is high. This is posing a great challenge to WHO’s campaign against TB because people will be able to access these drugs which cause the disease.

The World Health Organization Strengths

According to Lee, the WHO has four core strengths, which are essential to continued progress in global health and ensuring the effectiveness of the WHO’s future leadership. The first strength is in public health surveillance, pandemic preparedness and disaster response and setting global standards with regulations to the standards as the second strength. The third strength is catalyzing global initiatives/partnerships for key emerging health priorities and the final strength is advocating for policy change and behavior change that will combat the emerging non communicable disease (NCD) epidemics (Lee 80-87).

The WHO funding and management

The WHO is a well-controlled and managed organization. In other words, people who understand the WHO’s operations manage the organization and it has an Executive Board to assist in the management of the organization. The 34-member board is elected by the World Health Assembly and it advises the assembly, nominates the director general, and recommends focus areas, which is a clear indication of good management because the executive board is composed of technically qualified members in the field of health. This aspect means that experts who understand the activities of the organization manage the organizations. The meetings they hold annually show that they evaluate the operations of the WHO and implement new policies and strategies, which improve its services. The largest source of money for the WHO is from the member-states coupled with other partners like “the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation” (Chorev 112). In 2012, the largest annual assessed contributions from member states came from “the United States ($110 million), Japan ($58 million), German ($37 million) and France ($31 million) and the combined 2012-2013 budget has a proposed total expenditure of $3,959 million of which $ 944 million (24 per cent) will come from assessed contribution” (Chorev 92). This element is dangerous to the WHO because an organization should be able to stick to its budget and avoid activities, which may cost it extra budget expenses. In a case where the WHO spends more than the budget can make the organization become untrustworthy and hence discourage donors. Later the organization can run out of funds making it hard for the organization to operate. Currently, the WHO is seeking partnerships with other international agencies, which support the worthy cause of “quality health for all”. However, there are consequences of getting money from groups that request to be donors of the organization; for instance, such groups have other interests, which have to be met. A good example is the agreement that the WHO signed with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) where the latter seeks to pursue “peaceful” nuclear energy, which then limits the WHO’s mandate to investigate the development and use of nuclear power by IAEA (Chorev 83). In addition, as noted earlier in 2012 the US was the greatest financier of the WHO, which means that the US has more power within the WHO and thus the US influences decisions made by the WHO, hence diminishing the WHO’s autonomy and independence.


The WHO like any other organization faces some criticisms. For instance, the WHO’s anti-tobacco program is a highly contested issue due to its lack of boldness because people have the liberty to exercise their rights of choice and thus it becomes difficult for countries to implement the anti-tobacco policy Hence, they can never be condemned if they decide to use tobacco. Some critics decry what they see as the WHO’s totalitarian infringement into personal liberty and choice. They argue, “People have a right to choose to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking if they so desire and the WHO has no right to legislate against them” (Chorev 119). This criticism holds water because the anti-tobacco policy is directed at what governments do, but not what individuals do.


International agencies play a very critical role in contemporary society in boosting the economic growth across the world. The World Health Organization is the premier international health organization. This paper has discussed the background of the WHO, its role, strengths and weaknesses, funding and management structure, and criticisms directed at it. International agencies play a very important role in health care globally, and the WHO has put tireless efforts into eradicating small pox and other infectious diseases. The WHO has also helped poor countries to implement health services and to improve their health care infrastructure. The WHO’s priorities in terms of health needs are in line with the major priorities in health needs in developing countries. Every country, whether developing or developed, seeks to offer affordable health care to its citizens.

Works Cited

Burci, Luca, and Claude-Henri Vignes. World Health Organization, The Netherlands: Kluwer Law International, 2004. Print.

Chorev, Nitsan. The World Health Organization between North and South, New York: Cornell Press, 2012. Print.

Jacobs, Nick. Primary health Care: Now More Than Ever, Switzerland: WHO, 2009. Print.

Kickbusck, Ilona. “World Health Organization: Change and progress.” British Medical Journal 310.6993 (1995):1518-20. Print.

Lee, Kelly. The World Health Organization (WHO) (Global Institutions), New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

Ryan, Kenneth, Sherris Medical Microbiology, New York: McGraw Hill, 2004. Print.

Siddiqi, Javed. World Health and World Politics: The World Health Organization and the UN System, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1995. Print.

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