The term "global health" is rapidly replacing the older terminology of "international health." We describe the role of the World Health Organization (WHO) in both international and global health and in the transition from one to the other. We suggest that the term "global health" emerged as part of larger political and historical processes, in which WHO found its dominant role challenged and began to reposition itself within a shifting set of power alliances. Between 1948 and 1998, WHO moved from being the unquestioned leader of international health to being an organization in crisis, facing budget shortfalls and diminished status, especially given the growing influence of new and powerful players. We argue that WHO began to refashion itself as the coordinator, strategic planner, and leader of global health initiatives as a strategy of survival in response to this transformed international political context.