World Health Organization (WHO) is an international entity that is primarily concerned with global health. Despite the organization’s goal of enhancing healthcare and actionable strategies to achieve it, some people question its effectiveness. While a number of concerns are evidence-based, it is essential to acknowledge the necessity of WHO. This position paper argues for the importance of WHO as a critical factor in the global healthcare landscape that ensures efficient health monitoring, provides policymaking guidance, and develops benchmarking through enforcing the concept of stewardship.
Stewardship is one of the important concepts that WHO ensures through its actions worldwide. Stewardship is defined by “the wide range of functions carried out by governments as they seek to achieve national health policy objectives” (Brinkerhoff, Cross, Sharma, & Williamson, 2019, p. 4). As an international organization that aims to increase the quality of care, WHO enforces stewardship and encourages its adoption by health monitoring, benchmarking, and policymaking.
Health Monitoring and Shaping Healthcare Focus
Monitoring health outcomes worldwide is a task of WHO that serves as one of the crucial reasons for its creation and influential role in international healthcare. WHO monitors the health outcomes of member states to help local and global healthcare systems in identifying and coping with emerging medical concerns (Hosseinpoor, Bergen, Schlotheuber, & Boerma, 2018). For instance, during the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, WHO played a vital role in locating the virus by monitoring China’s health outcomes. The organization identified the upcoming crisis and informed others about the risks, which spurred additional travel restrictions and the preparation process of local healthcare treatment and prevention measures.
The situation serves as a relevant example of the importance of WHO’s monitoring practices. Without an international organization that reports global threats, the modern world would be vulnerable to health risks. The role of the WHO also extends beyond the aforementioned example. The organization conducts “household surveys, routine reporting, civil registration, and disease surveillance” to identify local health issues and report them to the regional authorities (Hosseinpoor et al., 2018, p. 70). These measures ensure that the governments act as health leaders by paying attention to the current problems and mediating the risks for citizens by operating through an evidence-based approach.
Benchmarking and Improving Global Health
When examining the role of WHO in the global health landscape, it is essential to address its benchmarking practices that ultimately increase the overall quality of care. Benchmarking, as defined by the WHO, is comparing and referencing a particular set of guidelines and achievements that aid healthcare entities in contextualizing their long-term health outcomes (Bevan, Evans, & Nuti, 2019). By enforcing stewardship in healthcare systems and establishing benchmarking, WHO ensures that every country has a comparison point to shape and create its healthcare system’s goals adequately.
The benefits of this approach are evident when analyzing the progression or reduction of a particular healthcare issue.
For example, public reporting, which is a part of benchmarking, has a positive effect on reducing maternal mortality in Zambia. Bevan et al. (2019) have found that benchmarking has shown the scale of the problem compared with other countries and has facilitated resource sharing to cope with the crisis. As a result of additional funding and public reporting, maternal mortality rates have declined significantly over the decade (Bevan et al., 2019). Bevan et al. (2019) relate this success to benchmarking and the fact that “Zambian civil servants and politicians seemed especially concerned and motivated by the successes of other African countries” (p. 141). Therefore, WHO’s international benchmarking can be regarded as one of the most influential factors in enforcing political responsibility for healthcare outcomes.
Health Policy Making and Social Determinants of Health
The importance of WHO is critical when examining the issue of social injustice within healthcare. Social determinants of health are defined as “economic and social conditions that influence individual and group differences in health status” (Donkin, Goldblatt, Allen, Nathanson, & Marmot, 2017, p. 61). From the definition, it is evident that every person’s socioeconomic characteristics greatly determine access to healthcare and its quality. WHO has highlighted that equalizing the healthcare landscape by providing treatment to all people regardless of their gender, ethnicity, and race should be prioritized. By health policymaking and enforcing stewardship, the organization ensures that the role of social determinants of health is reduced and eliminated.
More specifically, the WHO’s Rio Political Declaration on Social Determinants of Health was adopted by hundreds of countries worldwide to increase global political responsibility and reduce health inequalities. After passing the declaration, member states have taken on civic responsibility to reduce health barriers (Donkin et al., 2017). For instance, Health 2020 action is a European initiative facilitated by the WHO. Health 2020 “improved the health of populations, reduced health inequalities, strengthened public health and ensured people-centered health systems that are universal, equitable, and sustainable” (Donkin et al., 2017, p. 63). Therefore, it can be concluded that the WHO’s leadership continually reinforces political responsibility.
The Opposing View
On the other hand, there is also an opposing opinion stating that WHO’s efforts to increase the political responsivity of member states are ineffective. While many people argue that the WHO’s influence is hugely beneficial for reducing health inequalities, there is also a set of emerging evidence that suggests that policymaking is a bureaucratic measure that lacks action-based steps. For example, the Rio Political Declaration on Social Determinants of Health described above was adopted in many parts of the world, including South America. While the policy concerning the reduction of health inequalities followed, Donkin et al. (2017) argue that it did not hold key factors for change. Although the political action ensured that the economically discriminated groups received treatment, “economic policies to promote growth have done so at the expense of quality of work and security” (Donkin et al., 2017, p. 60). Consequently, the health policy worsened the quality of services and social protection in favor of maintaining the appearance of change. Conclusively, it can be stated that the WHO’s stewardship alone is not enough to motivate a transformational change.
In conclusion, it is safe to state that WHO plays a crucial role in global health by ensuring that local authorities adopt a stewardship approach in managing healthcare. Benchmarking increases the contextualization of health outcomes, while constant health monitoring guarantees that global and regional risks are acknowledged and addressed. Although international health policymaking leads to reducing healthcare barriers, it is also essential to recognize that stewardship has to be aided by actionable measures to ensure success. Therefore, the WHO-mediated policymaking evaluation can be implemented as a part of the organization’s tasks.
Bevan, G., Evans, A., & Nuti, S. (2018). Reputations count: Why benchmarking performance is improving health care across the world. Health Economics, Policy, and Law, 14(2), 141-161.
Brinkerhoff, D., Cross, H., Sharma, S., & Williamson, T. (2019). Stewardship and health systems strengthening: An overview. Public Administration and Development, 39(1), 4-10.
Donkin, A., Goldblatt, P., Allen, J., Nathanson, V., & Marmot, M. (2017). Global action on the social determinants of health. BMJ Global Health, 3(1), 60-65.
Hosseinpoor, A., Bergen, N., Schlotheuber, A., & Boerma, T. (2018). National health inequality monitoring: Current challenges and opportunities. Global Health Action, 11(1), 70-74.