Globalization of medicine is increasing, as manifested by the growing number of migrating doctors and cross-border education providers. In addition, new medical schools of dubious quality are proliferating. This situation accentuates the need to define standards and introduce effective and transparent accreditation systems. With this background, and reflecting the important interface between medical education and health care delivery, a World Health Organization (WHO)/World Federation for Medical Education (WFME) Strategic Partnership to improve medical education was formed in 2004. In addition to working on reform processes, capacity building, and evaluation of medical education at the regional and national levels, the partnership in 2005 published guidelines for accreditation of basic medical education. Only a minority of countries have quality assurance systems based on external evaluation, and most of these use only general criteria for higher education. The WHO/WFME Guidelines recommend establishing accreditation that is effective, independent, transparent, and based on criteria specific to medical education. An important prerequisite for this development was the WFME Global Standards program, initiated in 1997 and widely endorsed. The standards are now being used in all regions as a basis for improving medical education throughout its continuum and as a template for national and regional accreditation standards. Promotion of national accreditation systems will pivotally influence future international appraisal of medical education. Information about accreditation status--agencies involved and criteria and procedures used--will be essential to future databases of medical schools and will be a foundation for international "meta-recognition" of institutions and programs ("accrediting the accreditors").