As we were preparing our presentation for the health sector this week, one thing that kept coming up was the importance of the World Health Organization (WHO) in encouraging the use of ICTs in improving global health. The WHO, founded in 1948, is a specialized agency of the United Nations that works to improve international public health. The WHO Constitution has been signed by all member nations of the UN, and it has been an extremely influential organization in the field of public health for many years.
In the last few years, the WHO has adopted a policy of supporting the use of ICTs in international public health. They especially encourage public/private partnerships between national governments, large international organizations, and private companies involved in ICT. Other WHO initiatives in the field of ICTs in health include the Health Academy e-learning course, an online healthy living and best practices class targeted towards the general population, and the Health Internetwork Access to Research Initiative. This last initiative is especially important because it provides doctors and professionals in low-income countries free or low-cost access to thousands of biomedical journals in a massive online database. This initiative is an example of a back-office mechanism targeted towards professionals and medical staff that helps reduce the “know-do gap,” aka the gap between what information doctors have access to and how well they are able to diagnose and treat their patients. The WHO initiatives mentioned here represent an important step forward in increasing the use of ICTs in international public health, as well as the powerful impact that technology can have in improving basic health care services in developing countries.