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Dr Andrija Štampar

Public health reformist, one of the founders of the World Health Organisation and The Magna Carta of Health

His first role was one of a municipal doctor in Nova Gradiška, and then a health advisor to the Social Welfare Commission of the National Council in Zagreb. From 1919–30 he acted as the Head of the Hygiene Department at the Ministry of Public Health in Belgrade.

Throughout his career, he sought to make the doctor a social worker and a public teacher, economically independent of the patient, equally accessible to all sections of the population. 

Another aspect of his legacy was that he strengthened preventive medicine as opposed to curative medicine.

Andrija Štampar was one of the founders and creators of the constitution of a newly founded World Health Organisation in 1948, Chairman of the Interim Commission and President of the First World Health Assembly. 

He was an expert in the Hygiene Organisation of the League of Nations in European countries and the United States and from 1933–36 resided in China, where he reorganised the public health service as well. 

Early childhood

Andrija was born in Brodski Drenovac in 1888. He grew up in a family of six: his father Ambroz, a teacher, mother Katarina and three sisters. 

At a very early age, he showed interest in social issues of the rural parts of Slavonia, thanks to his father’s influence. 

During his high school years, he became friends with Ivan Kozarac, a novelist, poet and writer of short stories and Matija Antun Reljković, a writer. 

They left a significant mark on Andrija’s social awareness and his constant communication with the people of Slavonia through whom he learned about daily struggles and the quality of life for an average man. 

The choice of study

The information he was gathering inspired Andrija to study medicine, as he was accepted to the Medical School in Vienna in 1906. 

During his studies, he absorbed articles featuring social and medical issues and attended lectures on workers’ health protection and public health. 

During summers, he would return to Slavonia, where he would again spend time with locals, combining his learnings and their input into ideas that would later fuel his professional contributions to global health. 

Health for everyone

Working on prevention and care, he started publishing educational booklets emphasising health improvements targeting people with no access to public health services. 

His first official booklet of public health contained a summary of public health and was later used as a core of his public health reform.

He wrote:

In Croatia, we have phthisis, venereal diseases, trachoma and alcohol that destroy people’s strength. Maybe the condition will change if we get to know the enemy. That is why we are publishing the program as healing is our life duty.

Early career 

After graduating in 1911, he became a doctor of general practice and got married. Andrija and his wife Marija had five children. 

He returned to Croatia to accept a position in Karlovac City Hospital but was quickly moved to Nova Gradiška to deal with a cholera epidemic. 

During the First World War, he worked in Sisak as a regiment doctor. He liberated many recruits from military obligation for which he was punished and transferred to work in a concentration camp in Mauthausen.

Public health reformist

In between two world wars, Andrija continued with his mission of improving public health. He worked as the Head of the Department of Public Health in Belgrade, and his reforms set the foundations of public health. 

He helped construct 250 health institutions, including health stations in rural areas across the country, wrote health acts, started a health magazine with his social and health ideas and published health programs. 

Thanks to his efforts, people got educated on the importance of good health habits, prevention and early treatments that reduced mortality of infectious diseases. 

As a professor at the Medical Faculty in Zagreb, he passed his progressive ideas to students. 

While implementing public health reforms, he encountered strong opposition from other doctors and pharmacists. 

His peers disapproved of the new system and opposed the government’s idea to manage pharmacies with doctors and medically educated staff working in them.

In 1927, under the patronage of the Rockefeller Foundation, he opened a School of Public Health and the Institute of Hygiene in Zagreb, still active today. 

Due to political turmoil in the early 1940s, Andrija was imprisoned in Graz, Austria, and liberated in 1945. 

The same year he became a Director of the School of Public Health and a Rector of Zagreb University. In 1952 he became Dean of the Medical School in Zagreb. 

Founding of the World Health Organization

In 1946, following the establishment of the Economic and Social Council, as part of the United Nations, plans for the World Health Organization (WHO) began. 

Andrija played a key role as he was appointed to the Technical Preparatory Committee and worked on a constitution and the initial plan for the new organisation. He drafted the constitution, especially the famous Preamble known as ‘The Magna Carta of Health’. 

The WHO accepted the constitution at an International Health Conference in New York in 1946 and appointed Andrija a Chairman of a newly established Interim Commission. 

WHO was established in 1948 following the constitution’s ratification, and Andrija became the first president of the Assembly of the WHO. 

He remained an active member in all segments of the organisation until his death in 1958. 

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