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International Health Institutions Changing the World


The needs and rights of the world’s poor come in all shapes and sizes. For decades, aid organizations have used their funds, manpower and resources to mobilize corrective programs for these vulnerabilities. Health organizations in particular play a critical role serving the world’s poor by employing a wide range of expertise to aid in mitigating international health concerns. These organizations believe that all people deserve the dignity of regular, healthy meals, and to have access to basic and affordable medical treatment. Here are four top international health institutions that stand out:

World Health Organization

The WHO is probably the best-known health institution in the world. Established in 1948 as the United Nations’ global health authority and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Health Organization leads the world in public health statistics, public health policy, emergency response, and research. The WHO is probably most visible in disaster relief and immunization programs, which reach tens of millions of people. Their experts also publish health and wellness guidelines and work with UN-member states to promote these guidelines for maximum impact. WHO workers also keep close tabs on achieving Millennium Development Goals and other international standards to ensure that progress promised is progress made. Overall, the World Health Organization continues its work as the world’s leading international health coordinating and authoritative body.

Oxfam International

While the World Health Organization’s focus is all-encompassing with regard to international health standards and policy, Oxfam International has a more targeted approach on relief and development. Headquartered in Washington, D.C. with advocacy offices in Brussels, Geneva, New York, Brasilia and Addis Ababa, Oxfam has a much heavier focus on advocacy and emergency response initiatives. Oxfam focuses its development, emergency assistance, campaigning, advocacy and policy research to empower the global poor to exercise their economic rights and right to development. And like many international organizations, they have Hollywood Ambassadors that bring star power to the cause. One of Oxfam’s most notable campaigns is Health & Education for All, which pushes for clinics and schools to be built in post-conflict communities by partnering with local actors and mobilizing the necessary resources. The relief and development agency’s programs aim to empower those living in poverty to exercise their rights so that they can live lives of dignity.

GAIN Alliance

In contrast to Oxfam’s mission of advocacy and emergency response and the World Health Organization’s all-encompassing approach to international health issues, GAIN Alliance has a much more precise mission: provide nutritional foods to malnourished communities all over the world. GAIN operates in more than 30 countries, just over half of them in Africa. Its work centers on healthy aid provisions for more than 667 million people, half of which are women and children. Projects to improve nutrition in poor communities address maternal and infant nutrition, large scale food fortification and supporting local agricultural initiatives to be more market-friendly and nutritious.


While not specifically an international health institution, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) makes critical contributions to improved global health. Its work invariably encompasses investing in improved health outcomes for infants and young children in chaotic environments and emergency situations. The nexus of UNICEF and better health outcomes for children is clearly visible in its efforts to provide adequate, nutritious meals to 180 million children under the age of 5 who suffer physical and mental impairments as a result of malnutrition and stunted growth. Further, UNICEF aligns its health initiatives with many of its focus areas, which include programs focusing on HIV prevention, child protection, promoting gender equality and basic education. UNICEF has made great strides in its health programs, underlining UNICEF’s mission to foster children’s holistic development and protection.

– Zach Crawford

Sources: World Health Organization, Oxfam International Health and Education for All, GAIN Alliance 2011-2012 annual report, TIME Magazine
Photo: United Nations