Unpacking the Complex Organization: Understanding the WHO’s Workforce

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that is responsible for promoting health, keeping the world safe, and serving the vulnerable. It is an complex organization with a workforce that is diverse and dynamic. The WHO works for the WHO, but who exactly makes up this workforce and what do they do? In this article, we will unpack the organization and explore the different roles and responsibilities of the WHO’s workforce. From doctors and nurses to scientists and policy makers, we will take a closer look at the people who work tirelessly to improve the health and well-being of people all over the world. So, let’s dive in and discover the inner workings of this crucial organization.

The Structure of the WHO

Governance and Management

The WHO’s Director-General

The World Health Organization (WHO) is governed by its Director-General, who serves as the organization’s chief executive officer. The Director-General is responsible for implementing the decisions made by the WHO’s governing bodies, managing the organization’s day-to-day operations, and representing the WHO in its relations with member states and other international organizations. The Director-General is elected by the WHO’s Executive Board for a term of five years, and can be re-elected for an additional term.

The WHO’s Executive Board

The WHO’s Executive Board is responsible for providing guidance and oversight to the organization’s work. The Executive Board is composed of 34 individuals who are elected by the WHO’s member states for three-year terms. The Executive Board meets twice a year to discuss and approve the organization’s budget, work program, and other important decisions. In addition, the Executive Board serves as a forum for member states to discuss and coordinate their efforts on global health issues.

The WHO’s Regional Offices

The WHO has six regional offices, which are responsible for implementing the organization’s work at the regional level. These offices are located in Africa, the Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, South-East Asia, and the Western Pacific. Each regional office is headed by a Regional Director, who is responsible for coordinating the organization’s work in the region and representing the WHO in its relations with member states and other international organizations. The regional offices work closely with member states, civil society organizations, and other partners to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable.

Staff Roles and Departments

Health Systems and Innovation

The Health Systems and Innovation department focuses on improving healthcare systems, especially in low-resource settings. The department works on strengthening healthcare infrastructure, developing innovative healthcare solutions, and promoting healthcare equity. This department is crucial in addressing the challenges faced by healthcare systems worldwide, ensuring that healthcare services are accessible to all, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

Medical Products and Inspection

The Medical Products and Inspection department is responsible for ensuring the safety, efficacy, and quality of medical products. This department plays a critical role in regulating the production and distribution of medical products, such as vaccines, medicines, and medical devices. The team of experts in this department works closely with manufacturers, governments, and other stakeholders to ensure that medical products meet the required standards, and they also monitor the safety of these products throughout their life cycle.

Neglected Tropical Diseases

The Neglected Tropical Diseases department focuses on controlling and eliminating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). NTDs are a group of diseases that primarily affect populations in developing countries, and they often go unnoticed due to their low prevalence in high-income countries. The department works on developing and implementing effective control and elimination strategies for NTDs, including mass drug administration programs, vector control, and improved sanitation and hygiene.

Noncommunicable Diseases

The Noncommunicable Diseases department focuses on addressing the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases. The department works on promoting healthy lifestyles, preventing NCDs, and improving the diagnosis and treatment of these diseases. The department also works to address the social and environmental determinants of NCDs, which include factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diets, and physical inactivity.

Polio and Emergencies

The Polio and Emergencies department focuses on the eradication of polio and responding to health emergencies worldwide. The department leads global efforts to eradicate polio, working closely with governments, partners, and donors to develop and implement effective polio eradication strategies. The department also plays a critical role in responding to health emergencies, such as outbreaks of infectious diseases or natural disasters, by providing technical assistance, logistical support, and emergency funding.

Universal Health Coverage and Life Course

The Universal Health Coverage and Life Course department focuses on promoting access to healthcare services for all individuals, regardless of their ability to pay. The department works on developing and implementing health financing policies and strategies that ensure that healthcare services are affordable and accessible to all. The department also focuses on promoting health throughout the life course, from preconception to old age, and addresses health issues such as maternal and child health, aging, and disability.

Recruitment and Selection Process

Key takeaway: The World Health Organization (WHO) has a complex organizational structure that includes a Director-General, Executive Board, and regional offices. The organization’s workforce is composed of highly skilled and qualified individuals who are selected through a competency-based assessment process that includes written tests, interviews, and practical exercises. The WHO is committed to achieving gender equality, regional and cultural representation, and disability inclusion in its workforce. The organization offers various training and development programs to enhance the technical and leadership skills of its employees. The WHO also implements performance management strategies, including annual performance reviews, mentoring and coaching, and succession planning, to support the career development and advancement of its workforce.

Qualifications and Requirements

In order to be considered for a position within the World Health Organization (WHO), candidates must meet a certain set of qualifications and requirements. These requirements are designed to ensure that the WHO’s workforce is composed of highly skilled and qualified individuals who can effectively carry out the organization’s mission and objectives.

Educational and Professional Background

Candidates for positions within the WHO are typically required to have a strong educational and professional background in fields such as public health, medicine, epidemiology, health policy, and related disciplines. A Master’s or PhD degree in a relevant field is often preferred, although not always required. Candidates with significant work experience in the field may also be considered for positions, particularly in leadership roles.

Language Skills

Given the global scope of the WHO’s work, language skills are a critical qualification for many positions within the organization. Fluency in English is typically required, as it is the primary working language of the WHO. However, proficiency in other languages, such as French, Spanish, or Arabic, may also be required depending on the specific role and location.

Technical Expertise

The WHO’s workforce is comprised of individuals with highly specialized technical expertise in a wide range of areas, including infectious diseases, chronic diseases, maternal and child health, and health systems. Candidates for positions within the organization are expected to have a deep understanding of the technical aspects of their field, as well as the ability to apply this knowledge to real-world situations. Additionally, candidates should be able to demonstrate a commitment to continuous learning and professional development.

Competency-Based Assessments

In order to ensure that the World Health Organization (WHO) recruits and selects the most qualified candidates for its workforce, the organization employs a competency-based assessment process. This process involves evaluating the candidate’s abilities, skills, and knowledge through a series of assessments that are designed to measure their competencies against the requirements of the job.

The competency-based assessments typically include three main components: written tests, interviews, and practical exercises.

  • Written Tests: The written tests are designed to assess the candidate’s knowledge and understanding of the subject matter relevant to the job. These tests may include multiple-choice questions, short answer questions, and case studies that require the candidate to apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios.
  • Interviews: The interviews are conducted to assess the candidate’s communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and overall fit for the job. The interviews may be conducted by a panel of WHO officials or by a single interviewer, and may include both structured and unstructured questions.
  • Practical Exercises: The practical exercises are designed to assess the candidate’s ability to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world situations. These exercises may include case studies, group discussions, or simulations that require the candidate to work collaboratively with others to solve a problem or make a decision.

Overall, the competency-based assessments are designed to provide a comprehensive view of the candidate’s abilities and skills, and to ensure that the WHO recruits and selects the most qualified candidates for its workforce.

Diversity and Inclusion

Gender Equality

The World Health Organization (WHO) is committed to achieving gender equality in its workforce. This includes promoting equal opportunities for women and men, ensuring that women are equally represented in all levels of the organization, and addressing gender-based discrimination and harassment. The WHO has established various initiatives to promote gender equality, such as gender-sensitive recruitment and selection processes, training programs on gender issues, and the development of gender-responsive policies and programs.

Regional and Cultural Representation

The WHO recognizes the importance of having a diverse workforce that reflects the different regions and cultures it serves. To achieve this, the organization has established a recruitment strategy that ensures a fair representation of candidates from different regions and cultures. The WHO also encourages applications from people with disabilities and promotes an inclusive work environment that values diversity and inclusion.

Disability Inclusion

The WHO is committed to promoting disability inclusion in its workforce. This includes providing equal opportunities for people with disabilities, ensuring that the organization’s facilities and services are accessible to all, and raising awareness about disability issues among its staff. The WHO has established various initiatives to support disability inclusion, such as offering flexible work arrangements, providing reasonable accommodations, and offering training on disability issues.

Overall, the WHO’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is reflected in its recruitment and selection processes, as well as in its policies and programs. The organization recognizes that a diverse workforce is essential to achieving its mission of promoting health, keeping the world safe, and serving the vulnerable.

Career Development and Advancement

Training and Development Programs

The World Health Organization (WHO) places a strong emphasis on the professional development of its workforce. This commitment to employee growth and advancement is evident in the various training and development programs that the organization offers. These programs aim to enhance the technical and leadership skills of WHO staff members, ultimately contributing to the overall effectiveness of the organization.

Leadership Development
One aspect of the WHO’s training and development programs is leadership development. The organization recognizes that strong leadership is essential for achieving its goals and objectives. As such, it provides various opportunities for its employees to develop their leadership skills. These opportunities may include workshops, seminars, mentorship programs, and coaching sessions. By investing in leadership development, the WHO ensures that its managers and supervisors are equipped with the necessary skills to lead and motivate their teams effectively.

Technical Skills Training
Another important component of the WHO’s training and development programs is technical skills training. Given the complex and diverse nature of the organization’s work, it is crucial that its employees possess the necessary technical expertise to carry out their duties effectively. The WHO offers a range of technical training courses designed to enhance the knowledge and skills of its staff members. These courses may cover topics such as epidemiology, health policy, research methodology, and data analysis. By providing access to such training, the WHO ensures that its workforce is well-equipped to tackle the challenges associated with public health.

Professional Certifications
In addition to technical skills training, the WHO also offers opportunities for its employees to obtain professional certifications. Obtaining certifications demonstrates an individual’s expertise in a particular field and can enhance their credibility and marketability. The organization recognizes the value of certifications in promoting employee growth and development. As such, it provides support and resources for employees to pursue certifications in areas such as project management, data analysis, and public health. By encouraging its staff members to obtain professional certifications, the WHO reinforces its commitment to employee development and advancement.

Overall, the WHO’s training and development programs play a vital role in the career development and advancement of its workforce. By investing in the technical and leadership skills of its employees, the organization ensures that it is well-equipped to achieve its mission of promoting health, keeping the world safe, and serving the vulnerable.

Performance Management

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the importance of effective performance management in the career development and advancement of its workforce. The organization has implemented various strategies to ensure that employees receive constructive feedback, have opportunities for growth, and are held accountable for their performance. The following are some of the key components of the WHO’s performance management system:

  • Annual Performance Reviews: Each year, WHO employees undergo a comprehensive performance review. The review is conducted by the employee’s supervisor and takes into account the employee’s job responsibilities, performance goals, and overall contribution to the organization. The purpose of the review is to provide feedback on areas of strength and improvement, as well as to set new performance goals for the upcoming year.
  • Mentoring and Coaching: The WHO also provides mentoring and coaching services to its employees. This includes providing guidance on career development, leadership skills, and job-specific competencies. Mentoring and coaching are offered at various levels within the organization, from entry-level employees to senior managers.
  • Succession Planning: The WHO is committed to ensuring that there is a strong pipeline of leaders within the organization. To achieve this, the organization has implemented a comprehensive succession planning program. This program involves identifying potential leaders, providing them with the necessary training and development opportunities, and creating a clear path for their advancement within the organization. The goal of this program is to ensure that the WHO has a robust leadership pipeline that can support the organization’s strategic objectives.

Overall, the WHO’s performance management system is designed to support the career development and advancement of its workforce. By providing regular feedback, offering mentoring and coaching services, and implementing a succession planning program, the organization is committed to developing its employees and ensuring that it has a highly skilled and motivated workforce.

Challenges and Opportunities for WHO Staff

Work-Life Balance

One of the challenges and opportunities for WHO staff is achieving a work-life balance. The organization recognizes the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance to promote the well-being and productivity of its employees. As a result, WHO has implemented several initiatives to support work-life balance, including remote work arrangements, flexible working hours, and wellness programs.

Remote Work Arrangements

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has become a popular option for many organizations around the world. WHO has also embraced this trend by offering remote work arrangements to its employees. This has enabled employees to work from the comfort of their homes or other locations, reducing the need for long commutes and increasing work-life flexibility.

Flexible Working Hours

WHO recognizes that employees have different needs and preferences when it comes to working hours. To promote work-life balance, the organization offers flexible working hours to its employees. This allows employees to choose their working hours within a specified range, enabling them to accommodate personal commitments and prioritize their time effectively.

Wellness Programs

In addition to remote work arrangements and flexible working hours, WHO has implemented wellness programs to support the physical and mental health of its employees. These programs include fitness classes, meditation sessions, stress management workshops, and healthy lifestyle counseling. By promoting wellness, WHO aims to reduce stress and burnout among its employees, enhancing their overall well-being and productivity.

Overall, WHO’s commitment to work-life balance reflects its recognition of the importance of employee well-being in achieving its mission of promoting health and well-being worldwide. By offering remote work arrangements, flexible working hours, and wellness programs, the organization is creating a supportive and inclusive work environment that empowers its employees to excel in their roles and contribute to the organization’s success.

Global Health Challenges

Emerging Diseases

The World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for monitoring and responding to emerging diseases that pose a threat to global health. Emerging diseases are those that are new or rapidly increasing in incidence, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. WHO staff must be prepared to work in unpredictable and rapidly changing environments, often in challenging conditions. This requires a high level of flexibility, adaptability, and resourcefulness.

Humanitarian Crises

WHO staff also play a critical role in responding to humanitarian crises, such as natural disasters, conflicts, and displacement. These crises can disrupt health systems, exacerbate health inequalities, and lead to a range of health problems, including malnutrition, disease outbreaks, and mental health issues. WHO staff must be able to work in complex and often dangerous environments, coordinating with other organizations and stakeholders to provide life-saving assistance.

Health Inequalities

Health inequalities, or disparities in health outcomes and access to healthcare, are a major challenge for WHO staff. These inequalities can be driven by a range of factors, including poverty, discrimination, and social and environmental determinants of health. WHO staff must work to address these inequalities by promoting equitable access to healthcare, addressing the social and environmental factors that influence health, and advocating for policies and programs that reduce health disparities.

Overall, WHO staff face a range of complex challenges in their work, including emerging diseases, humanitarian crises, and health inequalities. To address these challenges, WHO staff must be highly skilled, adaptable, and committed to promoting health and well-being for all people, regardless of their background or circumstances.

Collaboration and Partnerships

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a complex organization that operates in a rapidly changing global health landscape. One of the key challenges for WHO staff is to foster collaboration and partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders, including governments, international organizations, academic institutions, and the private sector. This section will explore the various types of collaboration and partnerships that WHO engages in, and their implications for the organization’s workforce.

Public-Private Partnerships

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are a critical component of WHO’s strategy to achieve its goals and objectives. PPPs involve collaborations between the organization and private sector entities, such as pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms, and healthcare providers. These partnerships are designed to leverage the unique strengths and resources of each partner to achieve shared goals, such as improving access to essential medicines, vaccines, and health technologies.

WHO staff involved in PPPs need to have a deep understanding of the private sector’s priorities and incentives, as well as the organization’s mandate and values. They must also be able to navigate complex legal and regulatory frameworks that govern these partnerships. Effective communication, negotiation, and conflict resolution skills are essential for building and maintaining successful PPPs.

Academic and Research Collaborations

Academic and research collaborations are another important aspect of WHO’s workforce. These collaborations involve partnerships with universities, research institutions, and other academic organizations. They are designed to enhance the organization’s knowledge base, improve its research capacity, and inform its policy and programmatic work.

WHO staff involved in academic and research collaborations need to have a strong understanding of the research process, methodologies, and ethical considerations. They must also be able to identify and engage with the right academic partners, build effective research teams, and manage the flow of information and knowledge.

Global Health Networks

Global health networks are another critical component of WHO’s workforce. These networks involve partnerships with other international organizations, such as the United Nations (UN) agencies, the World Bank, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). They are designed to leverage the expertise and resources of these organizations to achieve shared goals, such as improving global health security, reducing poverty and inequality, and addressing climate change.

WHO staff involved in global health networks need to have a deep understanding of the organizational culture, priorities, and working styles of these partners. They must also be able to navigate complex power dynamics, negotiate competing interests, and build effective multilateral partnerships.

In conclusion, collaboration and partnerships are critical components of WHO’s workforce. The organization’s ability to foster effective partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders will determine its success in achieving its goals and objectives. WHO staff involved in these collaborations need to have a diverse set of skills and competencies, including communication, negotiation, research, and multilateral diplomacy.


1. Who works for the World Health Organization (WHO)?

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that is responsible for promoting health, keeping the world safe, and serving the vulnerable. It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and has over 194 member states. The WHO employs a diverse workforce of professionals from various fields, including medical doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, scientists, communications specialists, and administrators, among others.

2. What are the different roles within the WHO?

The WHO has a wide range of roles and responsibilities, and the organization is structured to meet these challenges. The WHO is led by the Director-General, who is elected by the organization’s member states for a five-year term. The organization is divided into several departments and units, each with its own specific functions. For example, the Department of Health Systems and Innovation focuses on improving health systems and ensuring that health services are accessible to all. The Department of Vaccines and Biologics oversees the development and distribution of vaccines and biological products.

3. How does the WHO recruit its workforce?

The WHO recruits its workforce through a competitive and transparent process. The organization advertises its job openings on its website and through other channels, and interested candidates can apply online. The WHO looks for candidates who have a strong academic background, relevant work experience, and a passion for public health. The organization also values diversity and strives to recruit a workforce that reflects the communities it serves.

4. What benefits do WHO employees receive?

WHO employees receive a comprehensive benefits package that includes health insurance, retirement benefits, and other perks. The organization also offers opportunities for professional development and training, as well as a flexible work environment that supports work-life balance. Additionally, WHO employees have the opportunity to work in a global organization that is committed to improving the health and well-being of people around the world.

5. How can I work for the WHO?

If you are interested in working for the WHO, you can start by visiting the organization’s website and exploring the various job opportunities available. You can also sign up for job alerts to receive notifications when new positions become available. The WHO is an equal opportunity employer and values diversity in its workforce, so all interested candidates are encouraged to apply.

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