World Health Day 2023 Commemorating seven decades of public health history in Yemen
07 April 2023
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” —WHO Constitution
When diplomats met to form the United Nations in 1945, one of the earliest things they discussed was the setting up a global health organization. On 7 April 1948, the World Health Organization (WHO) was born and celebrated with the first-ever World Health Day.
Five years later, in 1953, Yemen became the 81st country to join the WHO.
This year’s World Health Day marks WHO’s 75th birthday, and its 70th year of service to the people and government of Yemen.
The theme of 1953’s World Health Day was "Health is Wealth”, which emphasized the interdependencies of economic progress and public health. This year’s “Health for All” theme looks back at advances made in medicine and health care since WHO’s inception, and actions now required to tackle leading health challenges of today and tomorrow.
“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”—WHO Constitution
In his annual report to the 6th World Health Assembly (WHA) in 1953, WHO Director General, Dr. Marcolino G. Candau emphasized that one of WHO’s top goals should be to strengthen national health administrations, while ensuring that all people should be well-informed on health matters and the essential value of sound health measures. Over the next seven decades, investments were made by WHO Member States into a global vision of Health for All, despite many arguably insurmountable odds against its achievement.
Prior to joining WHO in 1953, the Mutawakkilite Kingdom that governed Yemen had already held intensive negotiations for collaboration in public health administration. The agreement it reached with WHO set out major areas of collaboration from technical and advisory health assistance, research and reporting, to disease monitoring and provision of medical equipment.
During ensuing decades, Yemen’s Ministry of Public Health and Population (MoPHP) with WHO support pursued the achievement of numerous major health milestones. One of the most significant was a long-fought effort to eradicate polio, which was finally achieved in 2006 when the indigenous wild poliovirus was eliminated. Yemen successfully interrupted the spread of circulating poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) in 2011-2012, and remained free of any polio outbreak until 2020. The re-emergence of the poliovirus type 1 (cVDPV1) in 2020 was soon followed by re-emergence of the poliovirus type 2 in 2021—putting Yemen back on the world map of 35 countries currently afflicted by this debilitating and uncurable disease.
“Unequal development in different countries in the promotion of health and control of disease, especially communicable disease, is a common danger.”—WHO Constitution
In a 1986 issue of the WHO World Health Magazine entitled Water is Development, Yemen was cited as a country where many citizens faced uphill climbs, literally, to fetch fresh water in remote and mountainous areas of the country. Currently, water scarcity across Yemen—exacerbated by protracted conflict, climate change, recurring droughts, and internal population displacements—makes safe water difficult to access by nearly 18 million people, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Yemen’s classification as one of the world’s most water-scarce countries, coupled with its high incidence of water-borne diseases, makes the preservation of safe and accessible water supplies a top public health priority. Over many decades, WHO has supported the operation and maintenance of water systems to meet basic health needs, in partnership with the Yemeni MoPHP and with mutual appreciation that without safe water supplies, entire communities throughout the country are unable to improve their health, well-being and development.
“The health of all peoples is fundamental to the attainment of peace and security and is dependent upon the fullest co-operation of individuals and States.”—WHO Constitution
Yemen’s ongoing eight-year conflict has reversed numerous health gains of recent decades, making the country’s health system one of the world’s most fragile and least developed today. Yet the WHO Constitution, and WHO’s continuing service to the Yemeni people, require unrelenting continued efforts to identify and address any barrier to Health for All in Yemen, as in all countries.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly 75 years ago, on 10 December 1948, states in part that: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…”
Thus, the pursuit of Health for All has shaped and steered the history of Yemen’s membership in WHO—as it will Yemen's future that is waiting to be written.