WONCA - WHO liaison background

The World Health Organization (WHO) is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.

The WHO has 194 member states who meet every year at the World Health Assembly in May and a rotating Executive Board of 34 member states who also meet in January every year to guide the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly. The WHO's headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland, in addition it has six regional offices, as well as 150 WHO offices in countries, territories and areas.

WONCA is recognised as a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) in official relations with the WHO, and as such its activity with the WHO is guided by the WHO's Civil Society Initiative which provides principles governing relations with NGOs. The WHO's objectives in collaborating with NGOs include to seek their help to promote and implement WHO policies, strategies and programmes, and to enable the harmonisation of intersectoral interests. NGOs in official relations are able to participate in WHO meetings or in those of the committees and conferences convened under its authority.

Through the WONCA executive committee, its seven WONCA regions, various working parties, collaborative organisations and academic members, WONCA has contacts with many of the WHO departments at its headquarters and across regional and country offices. Dr Viviana Martinez-Bianchi (whowonca@wonca.net), as a member-at-large of WONCA's executive committee, is currently the lead liaison person between WONCA and WHO.

Primary care can be considered the most cost-effective mechanism to deliver quality, integrated, person-centred care and is recognised as one of the essential components of a health system to achieve universal health coverage. The fundamental role of family doctors as the "backbone of health care" was formally recognised Dr Margaret Chan in her keynote address at the 2013 World WONCA Conference in Prague, and in her foreword to WONCA's guidebook, The Contribution of Family Medicine to Improving Health System, which also outlines in further detail the history of collaboration between WHO and WONCA dating back over 30 years.