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WORLD HEALTH FORUM. 1988; 9(2):143-6.This article summarizes the activities and the philosophy of WHO in its effort to improve worldwide health care since its inception some 40 years ago. At the 1st World Health Assembly in 1948 it was pointed out that little could be achieved by medical services unless the existing economic, social and other relations among peoples have been improved. The immediate priorities of the new Organization were more limited: to build up health services in the areas destroyed by the war, and to fignt the spread of the big infectious killer diseases. It took almost 30 years before the WHO really got down to trying to do something about the economic, social and other conditions which lie at the heart of most health problems. The Alma-Ata Declaration in 1978 heralded a new era in health. The concept of primary health care and the global health-for-all strategy to implement it are now rapidly gaining ground. In villages, towns and districts, people are waking up to the fact that they can contribute to their own health destiny. As WHO embarks on its 5th decade, there are grounds for optimism: health is moving in the right direction in spite of major obstacles.