Government of Canada

Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

World Health Organization

Table of Contents


© Naziffa


The World Health Organization (WHO), founded in 1948, is the largest of the United Nations (UN) specialized agencies. Its overall goal is to achieve the highest level of health for all. WHO provides leadership on global health matters and the research agenda, sets global health norms and standards, provides technical support to countries, and monitors health trends.

A founding member of WHO, Canada ended its latest three-year term to the Executive Board in May 2012, and now attends as an observer.

Health Canada leads Canada's relationship with WHO, while the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) provides Canada's assessed contribution—about $14 million per year.

Canada works closely with WHO to reduce global diseases such as polio, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and to improve maternal, newborn and child health including nutrition. Canada is a strong supporter of WHO initiatives such as:

Canada also works with WHO to support national health programs such as those in Haiti and the Polio Eradication Signature Project in Afghanistan and with WHO's regional offices such as the Pan American Health Organization.

With its near universal membership and strong convening power, WHO is the primary multilateral organization able to mobilize and coordinate international action on global health issues, particularly in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Thematic Focus

WHO's objectives align closely with two of Canada's priority themes for international development: securing the future of children and youth and increasing food security.

Children and youth

WHO hosts the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and is a leader in developing standards and guidelines to improve the health of children and youth. WHO is a key multilateral partner for implementing the Muskoka Initiative—Canada's commitment to improve maternal, newborn and child health.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete co-chair the UN Commission on Information and Accountability for Women's and Children's Health established to monitor global commitments for maternal, newborn and child health, and ensure that as many lives as possible are saved.

Food security

WHO is an important partner for Canada in increasing food security. It has developed a comprehensive framework for action on the global food security crisis, including guidelines and standards, as well as worldwide surveys on nutritional deficiencies.

WHO has recently set global targets as part of its implementation plan on maternal, infant and young child nutrition. Canada provides support to WHO to assist countries in their efforts to scale up nutrition, as well as to the REACH (Renewed Efforts Against Child Hunger) initiative, a United Nations coordination mechanism between the WHO, the World Food Programme, UNICEF, and the Food and Agriculture Organization, to strengthen national capacity to scale up nutrition. WHO is also part of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, a global call to action to increase efforts to fight undernutrition in women and children.

Strategy for Working with WHO

Canada's international development work with WHO focuses on two strategic objectives:

  1. Strengthening Canada's partnership with WHO in support of development priorities in the area of health, particularly maternal, newborn and child health, and nutrition.
  2. Supporting WHO as a key institutional partner by fostering a stronger, more effective organization.


With the support of Canada and other donors, WHO:

  • Reduced the number of polio cases by more than 99 percent since 1988 when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched, preventing 350,000 children per year from being paralyzed by this disease, with only three polio endemic countries in the world today
  • Vaccinated 7 million children against polio in Afghanistan in 2011 through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative
  • Supplied high quality, low-cost tuberculosis drugs and technical assistance to more than 93 countries, translating into a cumulative supply of more than 20 million patient treatments through the Global Drug Facility
  • Detected more than 140,000 new tuberculosis cases, saved 70,000 lives and prevented more than 1.4 million new infections in 2010 and 2011 through the TB REACH Initiative of the Stop TB Partnership
  • Strengthened mutual cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organisation for Animal Health for improved management of the threat of avian and pandemic influenza
  • Reduced the impact of H1N1 pandemic influenza in developing countries by supporting in-country activities related to administration of H1N1 vaccine
  • Contributed to the development of a framework to ensure that promises of resources for women's and children's health are kept and that results are measured through its work on the UN Commission on Information and Accountability for Women's and Children's Health