WHO to support digital health expansion, while tackling governance issues

The World Health Organization’s director general has pledged to support countries to maximise the benefits of digital health, but said that governance and ethics are major issues that must be tackled.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus made the announcement in a twitter post over the weekend, as the WHO steps up its efforts to support the technology while ensuring it is properly regulated.

The WHO this year unveiled plans to create a Department of Digital Health, including reforms such as a division covering data, analytics, and delivery.

And late last month the WHO launched a plan that aims to accelerate the use of digital technology to meet global public health needs.

Its Digital Health Technical Advisory Group met for the first time, and discussed issues ranging from data governance, to ethical and equitable use of digital technology.

The meeting led to an action plan to focus the group’s priorities over the next two years, including a global framework where the WHO will validate, implement and scale up digital health technology.

There will also be recommendations on safe and ethical use that other nations can follow, advice on advocacy and partnership models, and how to deal with emerging digital health technologies.

The group will meet regularly over the coming year to put the plan into place.

In his twitter post following the meeting Ghebreyesus said: “From robotic surgery to artificial intelligence, virtual reality and machine learning, digital tools offer exciting and new opportunities for health.

“But they also raise new questions and pose new challenges. Digital health brings together the tech industry, which operates in a fast and less regulated environment.

“To truly reap the benefits of digital health we have to address the governance gap, the trust gap, and the ethical considerations.

“Crucially we must make sure the digital technologies serve to narrow inequalities, not widen them, that’s where the WHO can play a vital role.”

 

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