Partners in health

A better picture: International Standard gives photography a new exposure
March 11, 2019
Looking for health advances? Latest ISOfocus examines healthcare hot topics
March 12, 2019

While some countries have made great progress toward universal health coverage, half the world’s population are still unable to obtain the health services they need. ISO’s collaboration with the World Health Organization is working to change things.

Good health should be a universal human right, but all too often it is dictated by social and geographical circumstances. Global health and well-being are the preserve of the World Health Organization (WHO), the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. Created to dispense the advice and knowledge needed for people to lead healthy lives, WHO provides leadership on matters critical to health and engages in partnerships where joint action is needed. This aspiration towards better health for all has been the guiding principle for seven decades and is the impetus behind the organization’s drive towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

Good health requires the commitment of many, from policy makers to civil society, to global health partners and even standards makers. ISO has enjoyed a strong collaboration with WHO for many years; WHO participates in almost 60 liaisons with ISO technical committees to develop standards for mutual benefit. Both organizations agree on the importance of ensuring that health standards are in place everywhere in the world, to contribute to our global well-being and to create the best possible conditions for health professionals to do their job.

The goal of these partnerships is to leverage international activities that contribute to the “tailoring” and adoption of ISO International Standards for health systems across all kinds of sectors, from public health and medical products to health informatics and traditional medicines. At a time when there is disturbing evidence of widening gaps in health worldwide, ISOfocus asks François-Xavier Lery, Coordinator for Technologies Standards and Norms at the World Health Organization, how the collaboration with ISO can help advance universal health coverage in the 21st century.

WHO participates in almost 60 ISO technical bodies that develop ISO standards. What are the benefits of this participation for WHO?

Over the years, WHO has developed 180 norms and standards for medicines, vaccines and pharmaceuticals. These are used, in particular, for products subject to the WHO Prequalification Programme, created with a view to ensuring that products procured by the United Nations are of assured quality and efficacy. The programme has made an enormous contribution in terms of increasing the access to quality-assured health products that are affordable and adapted to markets in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs).

In some very technical areas, such as the design and manufacture of syringes, WHO collaborates with, and relies on, ISO for elaborating and maintaining standards. This partnership guarantees that the standards designed within the ISO framework are fit for use by all countries, including those where access to healthcare remains difficult. These countries are not always represented in ISO technical committees and working groups; WHO ensures they are given a voice so that health products can be made accessible to all patients around the world while maintaining global standards.