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The Holy See is made a permanent observer of the WHO

World Health Organization (OMS WHO)

EQRoy | Shutterstock

Zelda Caldwell - published on 06/02/21 - updated on 06/01/21

The international organization adopted a resolution to formalize the Holy See’s long-held role weighing in on health care issues affecting the world.

The World Health Assembly named the Holy See a nonmember state observer of the World Health Organization (WHO). The move is an official recognition of the Vatican’s role in matters coming before the international health organization, according to a Catholic News Service report.

At its annual assembly, a resolution was adopted on May 31 that “formalizes the participation of the Holy See in the work of the World Health Organization as a nonmember state observer.” 

Since 1948 the World Health Organization has directed and coordinated international health policy within the United Nations system. The WHO Constitution states its main objective as “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.”

An official nonmembers state observer

The resolution authorizes the Holy See to participate in the general debate of the Health Assembly, to raise points of order relating the any proceedings involving the Holy See, and to cosponsor draft resolutions and decisions that make reference to the Holy See.

Noting that the Holy See has been regularly attending sessions of the Health Assembly as an Observer since 1953, the resolution also acknowledged the other international intergovernmental organizations that the Holy See belongs to.  

In addition to being a Permanent Observer State of the United Nations, the Holy See is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Organization for Migration, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear- Test-Ban Treaty Organization and the International Committee of Military Medicine, the resolution noted.

The Holy See’s recent contributions to the WHO

At the 73rd World Health Assembly held in Geneva, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič addressed the body, and called for renewed international solidarity and cooperation to face the health crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his address he reiterated Pope Francis’s call that “the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters living in the cities and peripheries of every part of the world, not be abandoned.”

As the Holy See’s representative, he called for the relaxation of international sanctions and embargoes in order to allow for humanitarian assistance. He also called for the equitable distribution of treatments and vaccines.

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