UNDP’s Partnership with the World Health Organization

UNDP’s work on health is done in close partnership with WHO, including as co-sponsors of UNAIDS. The impact of the partnership, from the global to country level, illustrates how the core competencies of the UN health and development agencies can come together to support multi-sectoral responses for health and deliver shared gains across the 2030 Agenda.

These include, inter alia, joint action in health emergencies, work on the health-environment nexus, and helping countries build more resilient systems for health to withstand emerging global health threats such as non-communicable diseases and antimicrobial resistance.

“By working with partners like UNDP, we can better address the social, economic and environmental determinants of health and make progress towards a fairer, safer and more prosperous future for everyone,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

World Health Organization

WHO is the directing and coordinating authority on international health within the United Nations. It provides leadership by shaping the research agenda for global health, offering technical support to countries, promoting evidence-based policies, and facilitating coordination efforts where joint action is needed. WHO’s unique status as a science- and evidence-based organization positions it as the primary international body for setting globally applicable norms and standards for health.

Its primary focus areas include:

  • Health systems, with a focus on moving towards universal health coverage
  • Communicable and noncommunicable diseases
  • Promoting health through the life-course
  • Preparedness, surveillance and response

All of WHO’s work is guided by three principles: to promote health; keep the world safe; and serve the vulnerable. WHO’s Thirteenth General Programme of Work (2019-2023) underscores its overarching goal to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. The strategy sets out three interconnected priorities for the next five years to help countries accelerate progress towards SDG 3: ensure one billion more people are 1) benefitting from universal health coverage 2) protected from health emergencies and 3) enjoying better health and well-being.

WHO-UNDP partnership focus areas

Guided by WHO’s political and technical leadership as articulated in its strategy, the Thirteenth General Programme of Work (2019-2023), and UNDP’s Strategic Plan (2018-2021), the UNDP-WHO five-year MoU signed on 4 May 2018 aims to support countries to scale up integrated, multisectoral responses to advance health and well-being and reduce health inequities. This renewed partnership makes an important contribution to broader global efforts to align action and strengthen synergies on global health, including through the WHO-led development of a Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-Being for All, which unites the work of leading global organizations for health, including UNDP, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

The MoU is focused on strengthened collaboration in three main areas which are powerful tools for better health, reducing poverty, creating jobs, fuelling inclusive economic growth, promoting gender equality and reducing inequalities.

1. Universal health coverage

Universal health coverage (UHC), supporting countries to strengthen the capacity of health systems, including by addressing the social, economic and environmental determinants of health, the interconnected challenges presented by communicable, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and antimicrobial resistance, as well as emerging threats to global health security.
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UNDP works closely with WHO on a number of issues, particularly to strengthen multisectoral action and partnerships for the control and prevention of NCDs and tobacco control, as well as addressing the social determinants of health. UNDP and WHO have developed a joint programme on activating national responses to NCDs to support countries to develop national responses to their NCD epidemics by strengthening efforts across sectors. For the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) the Convention Secretariat has initiated a project for WHO and UNDP to support the FCTC 2030 project, which aims to strengthen WHO FCTC implementation to achieve the SDGs.

As part of its health implementation support at country level, UNDP helps partners to implement WHO normative and technical guidance and promote good governance to facilitate effective multisectoral action on health.

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2. Multi-sectoral responses to health emergencies

Multi-sectoral responses to health emergencies, as well as ensuring delivery of essential health services in fragile, vulnerable and conflict-affected settings.
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The WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has underlined the need to strengthen the continuum between humanitarian emergencies and development, noting how the Ebola outbreak illustrates that “health security and universal health coverage are two sides of the same coin” and “the best thing we can do to prevent future outbreaks is to strengthen health systems everywhere”.

UNDP-WHO collaboration in emergencies helps to address the immediate health needs of crisis-affected populations while at the same time addressing the underlying causes of their vulnerability. This includes ensuring that adequate measures are in place to help countries prevent, prepare for, and respond to crisis and recovery in its aftermath.

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3. Scaling up multisectoral responses to health challenges

Scaling up multisectoral responses to health challenges arising from climate change and environmental problems, including the impact of climate change on the resilience of health systems.
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Health impacts from climate change are exacerbated in countries where health systems already struggle to manage existing health risks, and capacity to adapt to additional climate change-related health risks is limited.

UNDP and WHO, with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), have supported establishment of early-warning systems for climate-related health outcomes, developing software for forecasting risk, and collecting data to inform preparedness and longer-term health planning linking climate data with epidemiological surveillance. This was complemented with community—level investments, tailored to particular development challenges and vulnerabilities, such as heat early warning systems.

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Key resources