World Health Day: what it is, how it came about and what the goal

World Health Day has as main objective to make people aware of the importance of preserving health in order to maintain a better quality of life.

Every year, this day is intended to discuss a specific topic that represents a priority on the World Health Organization (WHO) agenda.

In 2018, WHO decided on “ Universal Health: for everyone, everywhere ”, a theme that represents very well the work that the entity strives to develop throughout its 70 years of existence.

You can see the importance of the campaign through the numbers. According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), 3 out of 10 people fail to seek health care for financial reasons.

Officially, World Health Day is celebrated annually on April 7 since 1950.

How did it come about?

World Health Day was created by the World Health Organization in 1948, aiming to broaden the world view with regard to what it means to “be healthy”, but it was only in 1950 that the day was officially established on the calendar.

Many people think they are healthy simply because they are not currently suffering from any disease, but this is not true. The lack of illness does not mean health.

Telling whether a person is healthy or not requires a number of factors, such as quality of life and mental and physical aspects. Therefore, it was defined by the institution that: “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not just the absence of illness or infirmity” .

Since then, every year campaigns have been carried out to make the population aware of the quality of life and the different factors that affect the population’s health.

In 2017, for example, the WHO focused its campaign on depression , a disease that can strike anyone, at any age and anywhere in the world and cause serious problems, which can even lead to death.

How is it celebrated?

World Health Day is celebrated worldwide by governments, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and various health initiatives through raising awareness and carrying out programs related to public health issues.

The organizations that participate in this whole process increase their visibility and the visibility of their activities through reports in the major communication vehicles and  press releases .

Health authorities in different countries of the celebration make commitments to the well-being and health of the population.

In addition, a wide variety of activities are carried out, such as debates, art exhibitions, competitions and awards.

What is WHO?

WHO is an international agency specialized in health and subordinated to the United Nations (UN).

Founded on April 7, 1948, in 2018 the Organization celebrates its 70th anniversary. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland, where its main conventions are held, bringing together doctors and health specialists from around the world.

The institution is composed of 194 member states, including Brazil, which had an important participation in the creation of the body. The proposal to create the WHO was authored by delegates from Brazil, who proposed the founding of an “ international public health agency with a global reach ”.

More than coordinating international efforts to control outbreaks of diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis , WHO also sponsors programs that seek to prevent and treat this type of pathology.

It has the Expanded Vaccination Program, through which it supports the development and distribution of safe and effective vaccines, pharmaceutical diagnostics and medicines around the globe.

Among his most internationally recognized historical achievements is the fight against smallpox. The fight against the disease lasted more than 2 decades until, in 1980, the WHO declared that the disease had been the first to be eradicated through human effort.

Even today, the organization is fighting polio, seeking to eradicate it in the coming years.

In addition, WHO oversees the implementation of the International Health Regulations and publishes a series of medical classifications, the most well-known being the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, the famous ICD.

The organization regularly publishes a World Health Report, which includes data and expert assessments regarding global health.

Among its other areas of activity, WHO also:

  • It carries out several health campaigns, such as, for example, to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables and discourage the consumption of tobacco;
  • Conducts research in areas of communicable, non-communicable, tropical and other diseases;
  • Improves access to health research and health literature in developing countries;
  • He works on initiatives such as the Global Initiative for Emergency and Essential Surgical Care (in Portuguese Global Initiative for Emergencies and Surgical Care ), which aimed to increase people’s access to essential surgeries.

WHO has the experience of many world-renowned scientists, making it one of the most respected institutions on the planet.

Objectives of World Health Day

The main objective of World Health Day is to spread awareness about priority agendas for WHO, its main organizer.

For this reason, every year the theme is changed, always aiming to raise awareness about what would be a healthy life.

In 2018, the theme “Health for all” wants to raise global awareness about universal health. WHO decided on this theme precisely to celebrate the work it has been conducting throughout its 70 years of existence and also because of political issues.

It turns out that in 2015, several world leaders around the world agreed to follow the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The objectives are broad and concern the eradication of poverty, access to drinking water and sanitation, and others, among which, Universal Health with a prominent position.

Therefore, World Health Day 2018 will not only be to make people aware of Universal Health, but also to advocate for it and demand that political leaders take action, as the commitment made in 2015 said that countries will work hard to guarantee this right until the year 2030.

This is because access to quality care and financial protection not only improves people’s health and increases their life expectancy, but also protects countries from epidemics, reduces poverty and the risk of hunger, creates jobs, drives growth and promotes gender equality.

According to PAHO, 3 out of 10 people do not seek health care for financial reasons and 2 out of 10 do not seek health care because of geographical barriers.

Of the 35 PAHO member states, 20 guarantee the right to health in the constitution. Even so, despite 23 countries in the Americas region having increased investments in health between 2010 and 2014, these increases were smaller than in the previous 5-year period. In addition, only 3.8% of wealth (GDP) is invested in health in the countries of the Americas, a figure much lower than the 6% recommended by PAHO.

It is to ensure that these problems do not continue to happen and that Universal Health is effectively put into practice that the World Health Day 2018 campaign is carried out.

What is Universal Health?

Universal Health is a term that refers to a public health system that provides medical assistance and financial protection to all citizens of a given country without incurring any form of discrimination.

For this reason, Universal Health requires the involvement of all sectors of society to combat:

  • To poverty;
  • Social injustices;
  • Educational gaps;
  • The precarious living conditions;
  • Other risk factors that influence people’s health.

It is as if all these problems were the cause of a much greater disease, which is the lack of access to quality health care. Therefore, getting rid of the causes is the main objective.

Even so, despite the name, this universal assistance does not have a single size and does not imply free coverage  for all procedures and for all people in the country. In reality, Universal Health can be determined by 3 critical dimensions:

  1. Who is covered;
  2. What services are covered;
  3. How much of the cost is covered by the system.

Therefore, the term is described by the World Health Organization as a situation in which citizens can access health services without incurring financial difficulties.

United Nations member states agree to work for Universal Health coverage by 2030.

How to achieve Universal Health?

The WHO has the mentality that Universal Health cannot be a practice imposed on all countries, as there is no single solution that can be used for the different regions and cultures of the globe. However, the entity agrees that there is a consensus on some of the elements that should be part of the solution:

Expand equitable access

When the organization speaks of “equitable access”, it does not mean that access must necessarily be equal to all citizens, but that it must be fair, in the sense that everyone has the right to access health without necessarily experiencing difficulties financial institutions. This implies, among other actions:

  • Expand equitable access to comprehensive, quality health services, centered on people and the community;
  • Invest in models based on primary care and comprehensive provision of effective people-centered services, which gradually expand;
  • Ensure the rational use of medicines and health technologies.

Strengthening management and governance

The Organization says it is essential ” and to empower people and communities by offering them information about health, educating them about their rights and responsibilities and encouraging them to participate in the formulation of health policies “.

Increase and improve funding

For WHO, financing services need to be expanded and improved, as this helps to eliminate direct payment, which acts as a barrier to access to health goods and services.

What the entity means by this is that when people are directly charged for access to health care, many people are prevented from treatment, as they do not have the money to pay for treatment on the spot. Therefore, expanding and improving forms of financing is a good measure to increase access to health care without necessarily affecting the market.

Among other measures, WHO suggests:

  • Eliminate payments at the service entry point;
  • Find sustainable ways to increase health financing;
  • Protect people financially, especially those who have less resources to pay for services.

What can everyone do?

Each person has an important role to play in helping their country achieve and maintain Universal Health. Participating in conversations and contributing to dialogue are the main forms of political action that the individual can exercise.

To provide a broader picture of what actions can be taken, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), one of WHO’s regional offices, has a list of actions that specific groups can take. Check out:

Decision makers

Politicians and representatives of the people, a country’s main decision-makers, can:

  • Participate in structured conversations with the community;
  • Listening to the demands, opinions and expectations of the population through face-to-face dialogues, surveys or referendums, in order to improve political responses;
  • Collaborate with grassroots organizations that advocate Universal Health to explore viable options for the country itself.

Health professionals

Doctors, pharmacists, nurses, dentists, nutritionists, physiotherapists and all other professionals in other specialties can:

  • Discuss policies that guarantee the availability, accessibility, relevance and competence of human resources for Universal Health;
  • Discuss the need for qualified and motivated multidisciplinary and interprofessional teams to improve access to health;
  • Fight for the working conditions of health professionals, aiming at stable and dignified employment, as this strengthens the health system and the economic development of the country;
  • Create movements that promote integration of the health and education sectors, in order to achieve quality standards in the training of health professionals based on the needs of the community;
  • Defend gender perspectives and incorporate it into new organizational models and hiring in health services.

People and community

Ordinary citizens can:

  • Raise their voices to exercise the right to health;
  • Organize national movements towards Universal Health;
  • Communicate their needs, opinions and expectations to those responsible for forming local policies, politicians, ministers and other public representatives;
  • Make yourself heard through social media to ensure that the community’s health needs are taken into account;
  • Organize activities such as decision-making forums, political debates, concerts, marches and interviews to provide people with the possibility to interact with their representatives;
  • Advocate for the implementation of strategies to motivate health teams, using economic incentives, professional development and quality of life measures.


Traditional, alternative and any size media can:

  • Highlight initiatives and interventions that help improve access to quality services and financial protection for people and communities;
  • Show what happens to people who are unable to obtain the health services they need;
  • Insist on the responsibility of policy makers and politicians on the health of the population through their pieces (documentaries, reports, etc.);
  • Create platforms for dialogue between beneficiaries, the community, their political representatives and decision makers through debates and interviews.

Previous Topics

As there are more than 70 themes, we separated the last 25. Check it out:

  • 1993: Handle life with care: Prevent violence and neglect;
  • 1994: Oral health for a healthy life;
  • 1995: Global polio eradication;
  • 1996: Healthy cities for a better life;
  • 1997: Emerging infectious diseases;
  • 1998: Safe motherhood;
  • 1999: Active aging makes the difference;
  • 2000: Safe blood starts with me;
  • 2001: Mental health;
  • 2002: Move for health;
  • 2003: Model the future of life: healthy environments for children;
  • 2004: Road safety;
  • 2005: Make each mother and child count;
  • 2006: Working together for health;
  • 2007: Investing in health for a safer future;
  • 2008: Protecting health from climate change;
  • 2009: Saving lives – Safe hospitals in emergency situations;
  • 2010: 1000 cities – 1000 lives;
  • 2011: Resistance to antimicrobials;
  • 2012: Good health adds life to age;
  • 2013: Hypertension – Know the numbers;
  • 2014: Small bites, big threats;
  • 2015: From the field to the table – Obtaining safe food;
  • 2016: Fight diabetes.
  • 2017: Depression – Let’s talk.

National Health Day

In Brazil, we also have a day dedicated to health. It is National Health Day, celebrated throughout August 5th. This date was chosen in honor of the physician and sanitarist Oswaldo Cruz, who was born on that date and was a pioneer in the study of tropical diseases and experimental medicine in Brazil.

As with World Health Day, National Day also has campaigns that seek to raise awareness of the importance of health education for disease prevention through exhibitions, lectures and events around the country.

World Health Day is very important to raise people’s awareness of health-related problems. Share this text on your social networks to help spread this year’s campaign!