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Book about the History of WHO is launched


Haendel Gomes (COC/Fiocruz)


Recognition of the right of all people to enjoy the highest possible standards of health without distinction as to race, religion, political affiliation and socio-economic status is one of the premises of the World Health Organization (WHO) constitution. Investigating how the organization pursued this mission, since it was formed in 1948, is proposed in the book The World Health Organization - A History, written by the researcher from Casa de Oswaldo Cruz (COC/Fiocruz) Marcos Cueto, in partnership with Professor Theodore M. Brown (University of Rochester, USA) and the historian Elizabeth Fee (National Library of Medicine, USA).

A critical review of the health policies of the main multilateral agency created after World War II, the book re-assesses the relative success and failure of the organization’s critical campaigns, from the first eradication programs of malaria and smallpox to the struggles against Ebola today. In the book, the authors examine how WHO was shaped by the political and economic background of the postwar period and the Cold War, and focus on issues such as the relative influence of the United States in the organization and competition from other entities such as UNICEF, the World Bank and the Gates Foundation.

Book discusses the performance of the public health officer Marcolino Candau

The result of ten years of research in archives and libraries in different parts of the world, the book also discusses the work of the second WHO Director General, the Brazilian physician Marcolino Gomes Candau, who was the head of the organization from 1953 to 1973. Before going to Geneva, where he would take up his post at WHO, Candau worked at the Special Public Health Service (Sesp), formed in 1942 by the Brazilian and the United States governments to promote the sanitation in regions producing raw materials such as rubber and iron ore in the Amazon region.

A graduate of Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF), with a master's degree from Johns Hopkins University (USA), Candau promoted a significant increase in the number of WHO member states, mainly in Africa and Asia, explains Cueto, who went on to say that the health officer led the fight against malaria and smallpox, a disease eradicated worldwide in 1980. "Candau also oversaw the construction of a new building, which is still the WHO headquarters in Geneva”, recalled Cueto, who is the scientific editor of the journal História, Ciências, Saúde - Manguinhos and professor of the Post-Graduate Program in History of Sciences and Health of COC/Fiocruz.

Commenting in the book’s inside cover, Johns Hopkins University professor of medical history Randall Packard highlights the authors' contribution. "Although the broad outlines are familiar, this widely-researched and clearly-written book greatly enriches this trajectory by providing new details on almost every page and placing WHO within the broader history of global political change”, said Packard, who is also editor of the Bulletin for the History of Medicine.

The World Health Organization - A History was the last co-authored book by Elizabeth Fee, who died in 2018. The launch, by Cambridge University Press, is scheduled for May 5, in English only.

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