Global Health Histories

Lunchtime seminars series 2014

In 2014 the focus of the popular annual seminar series turns to the history of universal health coverage. People from all over the world will be able to register to listen and discuss the issues under consideration live over the internet.

All seminars are held in the WHO library from 12:30 – 14:00 CET and are also broadcast via webinar. To register for a webinar, please contact:

Seminar 75: The Origins of Primary Health Care – 26 February

2014’s series commences with a seminar featuring Professor Marcos Cueto (Fiocruz, Brazil) and Dr. Socrates Litsios (WHO), who will speak about the origins of the WHO’s primary health care programme. This seminar will also mark a significant milestone – the 75th GHH seminar.

Seminar 76: Sri Lanka – An Example of Model Healthcare – 12 March

Dr Margaret Jones (University of York) analyses the Sri Lankan experience of primary health care from the late colonial period to the Alma–Ata declaration. Dr Susie Perera (Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka) discuss the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health’s investigation of how the existing primary health can be reformed to provide universal health access and maintain a safety net for healthcare.

Seminar 77: Mexico: Uneven development and Primary Health Care – 23 April

Dr. Gabriella Soto Laveaga's (University of California) presentation examines the social origins of the rural health care pro-gram, its immediate challenges and surprising successes, and its untimely demise linked to 1980s global economic reforms. Dr. Amalia Del Riego (WHO) will discuss the issue with reference to the Region of the Americas, highlighting recent efforts for health systems transformation to expand coverage of ser-vices and improve health systems performance, based on the renewed commitment to Primary Health Care.

Seminar 79: Nepal: Primary Health Care, Universal Health Coverage and Foreign Aid – 21 May

Dr. Susan Heydon's (University of Otago) presentation will analyse a rural health aid project’s experiences of nearly 50 years and consider why health programmes may not be as successful as planned. Dr Phyllida Travis’s (WHO) presentation will reflect on current trends and challenges in effective development cooperation in health in Nepal.

Seminar 80: South Africa: Primary Health Care as a Harbinger of Democracy – 25 June

Dr. Vanessa Noble’s (University of KwaZulu-Natal) presentation examines the attempts to train medical students in PHC. When these institutional efforts failed, the quest for PHC became largely associated with anti-apartheid “struggle” activists who worked to provide more equitable and accessible health care services for South Africa. Joseph Kutzin (WHO) discuss the issue from the WHO perspective.

Seminar 81: Global Public Health, Social Media and Research: Opportunities and Ethical Challenges - 18 September

We can now find, discuss and even review diagnoses, symptoms and treatments almost instantly. Dr Dan O’Connor (Wellcome Trust) will explore the ethical challenges that this transformation raises for health research. Drawing on the discussions within WHO’s Research Ethics Review Committee, Dr Abha Saxena (WHO) will talk about the opportunities and challenges of using these new tools in the field of health research.

Seminar 82: The UK, NHS and Universal Health Coverage – 22 October

Since its inception in 1948 the British National Health Service has been regarded as a highly distinctive health system. Looking at the reasons it came into being, and the strategies it subsequently devised to strengthen universal entitlement, Dr Martin Gorsky (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) asks what can we learn from the history of one of the forerunners? Ms Veronica Walford (International Health Partnership, WHO) will review key features of the British health system and draw lessons for the policy choices that other countries need to make in working towards Universal Health Coverage.

Seminar 83 WHO/EURO: How satisfied are you with your life these days? The rise of well-being in public health – 7 November 2014

How revolutionary is the concept of well-being? This seminar will seek to chart its rise from a variety of angles, tracing the deeper history of an idea that reaches back into antiquity, challenging the modern conceptions of the term, and reflecting on how well-being and well-being measurement have been incorporated into WHO’s work in Europe.


Professor Mark Jackson, Exeter University, UK
Professor Sarah Atkinson, Durham University, UK
Dr Claudia Stein, Division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation, WHO/EURO
Dr Agis Tsouros, Division of Policy and Governance for Health and Well-being, WHO/EURO

Seminar 84: Civil registration: The anchor for Universal Health Coverage? – 19 November

There is now an international drive to extend at least birth registration to all societies, but there remains much less consensus on the practicality of statutory universal health care. In this presentation, Professor Simon Szreter (University of Cambridge, United Kingdom) shows that state-sanctioned universal registration of vital events has a much longer history than is commonly realised. Dr Colin Mathers (Mortality and Burden of Disease Unit, WHO) will explore universal health in the public policy context, the nature of universal health systems, and seek to identify where civil registration and vital statistics systems will play their part.

Seminar 85: Antimicrobial Resistance and 20th Century Medicine – 3 December


Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General, WHO
Professor Jeremy Farrar, Director, Wellcome Trust, United Kingdom
Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, Assistant Director-General, Health Systems and Innovation, WHO
Professor Christoph Gradmann, University of Oslo, Norway

Antimicrobial resistance is a complex challenge and a major global problem. We need to understand better how pathogens evolve, how they can be targeted, and how their characteristics can quickly be diagnosed. But it is a social and economic issue as well. It is about how doctors prescribe, and what their patients demand of them. It is about regulation and public policy, how antibiotics old and new are deployed. It concerns animals as well as people. It is about the right incentives for science and industry. It’s a global issue: pathogens, resistant or not, do not respect borders.

Current low level of investment in R&D on antibiotics is a cause for concern, and new models are needed to ensure discovery of new, and improvement of existing medicines, as well as development of other technologies and interventions.

However, although usually perceived as a recent and imminent threat, antimicrobial drug resistance has a 70-year history to be told. The seminar will investigate historical situations in which current challenges relating to antibiotic resistance were shaped.