Home Fact Sheet Public health milestones through the years

Since the foundation of the World Health Organization in 1948, the world has experienced public health challenges that have required us all to come together with science, solutions and solidarity. This timeline, published in 2023 on the occasion of WHO’s 75th anniversary, serves as a reminder of some of the most memorable successes and how these have contributed to improved health across the world. These milestone achievements also provide inspiration for us to face the health challenges of the future.

  • 1945: Planning for WHO
  • 1946: WHO Constitution approved
  • 1947: First-ever global disease-tracking service
  • 1950: Discovery of antibiotics
  • 1952: Inactivated polio vaccine: Jonas Salk develops the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (given by injection), paving the way for mass global campaigns facilitated by countries, WHO and other partners that have led to the near-eradication of polio.
  • 1961: Attenuated live-virus polio vaccine: Albert Sabin develops the attenuated live-virus vaccine (given orally), paving the way for mass global campaigns facilitated by countries, WHO and other partners that have led to the near-eradication of polio. 
  • 1969: International Health Regulations: The World Health Assembly establishes the first International Health Regulations, which represent an agreement between WHO Member States to work together to prevent and respond to acute public health risks that have the potential to cross borders and threaten people worldwide. 
  • 1972: Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction: The Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP) is created at WHO. It is the sole body within the UN system with a global mandate to carry out research into sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • 1974: Expanded Programme on Immunization: WHO founds the Expanded Programme on Immunization to bring life-saving vaccines to all the world’s children.
  • 1975: Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases
  • 1977: First Essential Medicines List
  • 1978: “Health for All” goal set: The International Conference on Primary Health Care, in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, sets the aspirational goal, “Health for All”, laying the groundwork for WHO’s  call for universal health coverage.
  • 1978: Global diarrhoeal diseases programme
  • 1980: Smallpox eradication: Following an ambitious 12-year global vaccination campaign led by WHO, smallpox is eradicated.
  • 1981: International Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes
  • 1983: HIV discovered: The Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, is discovered. In 1987, the first antiretroviral medication to control HIV infection and prevent it from progressing to AIDS is licensed, prompting a shift in WHOs priorities.
  • 1988: Global Polio Eradication Initiative
  • 1994: Comprehensive definition of reproductive health
  • 1995: Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) strategy
  • 1998: Emergency contraception
  • 1999: Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization
  • 1999: Global strategy for noncommunicable diseases
  • 2000: Millennium Development Goals
  • 2000: GOARN: The WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) is established to detect and combat the international spread of outbreaks. 
  • 2001: UN Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS
  • 2001: Global Fund: The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a new partnership and funding mechanism initially hosted by WHO, is created in collaboration with other UN agencies and major donors.
  • 2003: “3 by 5” initiative: WHO launches the “3 by 5” initiative, which aims to bring treatment to 3 million people living with HIV by 2005 and lays the groundwork for reaching 13 million people infected with HIV with antiretroviral treatment by 2013.
  • 2003: Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: The World Health Assembly unanimously adopts WHO’s first global public health treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which aims to reduce tobacco-related deaths and disease worldwide.
  • 2004: UN Road Safety Collaboration: The UN Road Safety Collaboration is established. WHO and the World Bank launch the first ever world report on road traffic injury prevention.
  • 2004: New Strategic Operations Centre for emergency response
  • 2005: International Health Regulations revised
  • 2006: Child mortality declines: The number of children who die before their fifth birthday declines below 10 million for the first time in recent history. 
  • 2006: Child Growth Standards: WHO Child Growth Standards are launched to help every child grow in an equitable way.
  • 2008: Heart disease and stroke: Heart disease and stroke emerge as the world’s number one killers  ̶  indicating a global shift from infectious diseases to noncommunicable diseases, noted the World Health Statistics report.
  • 2009: New H1N1 virus: The world braces itself for the first influenza pandemic since 1968 with the emergence of the new H1N1 influenza virus.
  • 2010: Options for raising resources for health: WHO issues a menu of options for raising sufficient resources and removing financial barriers so that all people, especially those with limited resources to spend on health care, have access to essential health services. 
  • 2010: First rapid molecular test for detection of TB
  • 2011: Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework
  • 2012: NCD targets: For the first time, WHO Member States set global targets to prevent and control heart disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic lung disease and other diseases.
  • 2012: Nutrition plan: The World Health Assembly adopts WHO’s implementation plan on maternal, infant, and young child nutrition.
  • 2013: Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan: The first global Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan is endorsed. More than 100 countries have used the Mental Health GAP Action Programme (mhGAP) for the integration of mental health at primary health care level since that time.
  • 2014: Every Newborn Action Plan: The Every Newborn Action Plan is endorsed by the World Health Assembly. The Plan presents evidence-based solutions to prevent newborn deaths and stillbirths. It sets out a clear path with specific global and national milestones to achieve the SDG target of at least as low as 12 newborn deaths or less per 1000 live births. 
  • 2014: Ebola outbreak in West Africa
  • 2015: HIV treatment coverage
  • 2015: Elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis
  • 2015: Interruption of indigenous malaria transmission
  • 2015: Child-friendly formulations of anti-TB medicines
  • 2015: Sustainable Development Goals
  • 2016: UN Declaration on antimicrobial resistance
  • 2016: Progress towards polio-free certification in African Region
  • 2016: Treatment of neglected tropical diseases
  • 2016: Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health
  • 2016: Ebola outbreak in West Africa: progress
  • 2016: Zika association declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern
  • 2017: Antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens”: WHO publishes its first ever list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” – a catalogue of 12 families of bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health.
  • 2017: Partnership for Healthy Cities
  • 2019: UN Declaration on universal health coverage
  • 2020: Global outbreak of novel coronavirus declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern
  • 2020: New SDG indicator on blood stream infections
  • 2020: First oral regimen for treatment of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis
  • 2020: Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator
  • 2021: Antiretroviral therapy
  • 2021: Malaria vaccine for children
  • 2021: Tuberculosis prevention and care
  • 2022: Agreement for cooperation on the health of humans, animals, plants and the environment
  • 2022: Updated edition of “Family Planning: A Global Handbook for Providers”
  • 2023: Looking back – and forwards.

Source of Info: WHO

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