The World Health Organization’s (WHO) strategic priorities and technical workplans guide WHO activities and programs across the world. However, the WHO often relies on the expertise, advice and cooperation of WHO Collaborating Centres (WHOCC) to deliver on the priorities and execute its workplans. Currently there are around 800 WHOCCs in more than 80 member countries. They support the WHO’s implementation agenda across a wide range of activities in partnership with the WHO.
WHOCCs are institutions (or subunits thereof) that have been designated by the Director-General to support the WHO as part of a global network. The designation is a recognition of the institution’s historical collaboration with the WHO and outlines a schedule for a future program of work.
Following at least two years of successful joint activities, the WHO may propose to formalise the relationship by designating the eligible institution as a WHOCC. It is not possible for institutions to self-nominate. This is a time-limited agreement – typically four years – during which the WHOCC will undertake specific activities that contribute to the WHO priorities and workplans at a global or regional level.
WHOCCs are often smaller subsections of a host institution, typically universities, research institutes, hospitals, academies or governments. The designation itself is tied to the specific organisational unit – department, laboratory or centre – that has been collaborating with the WHO. Designations are non-transferable and are linked to the organisational unit and not to the individual Centre Director or other staff members.
Function and Incentives
WHOCCs are designated across a wide range of public health areas, reflecting the diversity of WHO core functions. These can include data collection, disease classification, training, capacity-building, technical advice and more. As such, individual workplans of the WHOCCs are planned and implemented in collaboration with the WHO, directly aligned with WHO strategic plans and linked to the relevant technical areas.
The WHOCC mechanism is grounded in a win-win relationship. That is, the WHO can access world class institutional capacity for support of its activities and avoid duplication of effort where in-country expertise already exists. Meanwhile, WHOCC host institutions enjoy increased visibility, recognition and the associated benefits at a national and international level.
WHOCC designations are separate from financial support from the WHO. Indeed, in most cases the WHOCC is required to cover the costs through core budget for the agreed work program and, possibly, by mobilising additional resources. This does not prevent WHO from co-contributing financially for activities beyond the agreed work program, provided there is funding available.