Multi-Lateral Summaries > World Health Organization (WHO)

The World Health Organization is the United Nations specialized agency for health. It was established on 7 April 1948. WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.

WHO is governed by 193 Member States through the World Health Assembly. The main tasks of the World Health Assembly are to approve the WHO programme and the budget for the following biennium, and to decide major policy questions.

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TCB-related programme

WHO works to achieve greater policy coherence between trade and health policy, so that international trade and trade rules maximize health benefits and minimize health risks, especially for poor and vulnerable populations.

Its focus is on strengthening capacities in the ministries of health to enable them to work most effectively with their colleagues in the ministries of trade, commerce and finance in shaping and managing the trade policy environment for health. The objective is to support Member States to achieve greater coherence between international trade and health policy, with a focus on building the knowledge base to strengthen capacity in WHO Member States and in WHO itself so that they will be able to recognize and act on the public health implications of international trade and trade rules.

Work on the relationship between international trade and health responds to the demand from Member States and international organizations, such as the WTO, through three main functions:

  • Performing analysis and research to better inform policy decisions, negotiations, dispute settlement and agenda setting;
  • Creating tools and training materials to build capacity in Member States to fully understand the public health implications of multilateral trade agreements;
  • Meeting country requests for support in specific trade and health issues.

These functions are carried out across a number of departments and in collaboration with regional offices.


Trilateral cooperation on public health related aspects of intellectual property rights

Since the adoption of the WHO Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property, WHO, WIPO and WTO have intensified their collaboration on public health and intellectual property.

This Trilateral Cooperation is meant to foster a better understanding of the linkage between public health and intellectual property policies and to enhance a mutually supportive implementation of those policies. The three Secretariats are since working together more closely, so that each can fulfill its own mandate more effectively.This collaboration will also ensure that their initiatives support each other, efforts are not duplicated, and resources are used efficiently, for example in technical assistance and capacity building.

Most recently, the three Organizations have published a study on “Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation - Intersections between public health, intellectual property and trade”. A collaborative effort by the three Secretariats, the study is intended to inform ongoing technical cooperation activities undertaken by the three organizations and to support policy discussions. Based on many years of field experience in technical cooperation, the study has been prepared to serve the needs of policy-makers who seek a comprehensive presentation of the full range of issues, as well as lawmakers, government officials, delegates to international organizations, non-governmental organizations and researchers:

For more information on the trilateral cooperation in general:


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TCB activities in this guide


  • Policy coherence in trade and health for human development


  • Diagnostic Tool on Trade and Health