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World health; ten years of progress

World Health Day this year is also the tenth anniversary of the day when the Constitution of the World Health Organization came into force. It therefore seems a good opportunity for all of us to review the progress towards better health made during the last decade in each country and throughout the world.

There have been great scientific advances new drugs, new vaccines, new or improved insecticides and better methods of combating and preventing disease.

This new knowledge is being rapidly applied where it is needed. In the last ten years the flow and exchange of scientific information and practical experience have perhaps been greater than ever before. More scientists and health workers than ever before have gone from country to country to learn, to teach and to demonstrate.

Even more important is that an increasing number of people everywhere realize that health is a way of living and thinking, and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity. Governments have come to accept their responsibility for the health of their peoples, and their obligation to provide, besides the classical hospitals and institutions, improved environmental conditions, health care for mothers and children, and safeguards for food and nutrition.

In all this there is nothing very new. For a hundred years or more, advances in the science of healing have been shared freely by all countries, health pioneers have been urging the importance of sanitation, and governments have slowly brought in health legislation and built up health services. The last ten years are remarkable, then, for a general speeding up and extension of health progress along established lines.

But this is not all. Underlying the accelerated progress has been a profound change in thinking and in method.

At an international health conference held in New York in 1946 sixty-one governments laid down new principles for international health co-operation and embodied them in the Constitution of the World Health Organization, which came into force two years later.

The nations that banded themselves together twelve years ago to set up this world co-operative for health with a programme far out-reaching anything previously attempted have since been joined by 27 others, bringing who's membership to 88.

Their action has already brought a number of benefits to all. Rapid pooling of information and experience makes it simpler to contend with diseases like influenza and poliomyelitis, to meet the threat to mental health that grows from modern conditions of life, to adapt medical education to changing needs, and to study emerging problems like the hereditary effects of radiations.

Those countries that are struggling to conquer age-old diseases and to build up modern public health services benefit further from the practical help given, in the true "co-operative" spirit, by all countries through who.

From all this one fact emerges clearly what, ten years ago, was little more than fine words on paper has now become a living reality. What was a vision seen only by few far-sighted men has, with all its imperfections, become a trusted instrument in the service of all countries. And this, I venture ,to think, will be considered by future historians as one of the most significant factors in health progress in this ten-year period.

Dr. M. G. Candau Director-General, World Health Organization

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May 1958