U21 and the World Health Organization: E-health is a global revolution for the poor populations of the world

Lund 06 October 2005Modern information and communication technologies (ICT) allow completely new opportunities to provide medical care and health information to developing countries. Inhabitants of regions lacking access to medical care can receive advice, diagnosis and assistance with treatment via a computer centre. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the international university network Universitas 21 are now co-operating in an endeavour to develop and spread what is known as e-health.

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"It is important that we, as an international university organisation, U21, take our responsibility and initiate and lead the process of developing e-health", stated Jan Nilsson, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Lund University and host for a U21 meeting. "E-health is a change of paradigm which will transform our medical care and improve public health globally."

Universitas 21 (U21) is a network with 17 universities in nine countries. Lund University is currently hosting the annual meeting of U21's Health Sciences network. At this meeting U21 and WHO have decided to make common cause in the work of making e-health available all over the world. The term e-health means the use of information and communication technologies in clinical work, training, research and administration in the field of health. U21 adopted resolutions at the meeting stating how work with e-health will continue in collaboration with WHO.

Today 10 percent of the world's population have access to 90 percent of the world's health care resources. E-health can change this situation through new opportunities for more people all over the world to have access to health information and medical care. This can improve public health worldwide and limit the spread of disease.

Each year 11 million children under the age of five years die, 90 percent of them in developing countries. Two thirds of these deaths, 7 million, could have been prevented if the people had had sufficient knowledge and access to existing, cheap methods of treatment.

"With the aid of e-health we can be instrumental in preventing unnecessary deaths among children", stated Kendall Ho, who heads the U21 committee for e-health. "E-health will completely change health care. It is one of the fastest-growing fields of health care today, giving undreamt-of opportunities for us to spread our medical knowledge to the whole world."

Even today there are plenty of Web sites providing information on health care. E-health also enables, for example, doctors in one country to receive expert help from other countries, lets patients who cannot get to a hospital receive a diagnosis, and allows countries to exchange patient information and medical records. A patient who takes ill while abroad can thus receive correct care faster. Diseases do not stay within national borders, but e-health enables increased co-operation between countries in order to combat epidemics like SARS.

U21 has been working with e-health since 2001. The three spheres on which U21 has chosen to focus are: (1) how modern information technology can be used to provide medical care in regions lacking hospitals and doctors' surgeries; (2) how U21 can contribute to global guidelines concerning the exchange of patient information between countries; (3) how U21 can stimulate the exchange of staff and students in the field of health between different countries.

U21's work has attracted the attention of the WHO, which has started its own programme this year called Global Observatory for eHealth. The aim is to improve health worldwide by giving nations information and advice on effective routines and strategies for e-health.

Yunkap Kwankam, co-ordinator of the programme, explained: "There is a tendency to believe that systems for e-health are tools solely for the industrialized world. This is not true, as is evident from the large number of e-health projects in developing countries."

A good example of how e-health can be used is a project being run by the Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico, which is a member of U21. Since 2001 they have built up a network of 1001 health centres in remote parts of the country where the inhabitants can receive health education and referral for care and education and support for the health care professionals in the sites operating currently. Through the computers they are also in contact with health promoters who can ensure that they are referred to the appropriate level of care when this is needed. Currently the project is operating in the State of Nuevo Leon Mexico, with the Telemedicine programme, of which system the Tecnologico is also part of.

U21's four resolutions on e-health include:

  1. U21 Health Sciences executive recommends the e-Health Science Group to form a collaboration with WHO and the Swinfen Trust to further develop the U21 partnership in e-health for student and staff exchange, service delivery, and research.
  2. U21 Health Sciences executive approaches the U21 managers to consider funding the development of a business case analysis for the operation of the U21 partnership in e-health that will involve the U21 business school colleagues.
  3. WHO e-Health Unit and U21 e-Health Science Group jointly establish a committee under the Global Observatory for eHealth (GOe) to look for opportunities for collaboration, and report back recommendations to U21 Health Sciences deans within 12 months.
  4. The e-Health Steering Committee requests the U21 Health Sciences executive to encourage its member universities to identify:
    • A specific point of contact (SPOC) for e-health consultants
    • A specific point of contact (SPOC) for health consultants
    and nominate them to link up with the U21 e-Health Steering Committee for the engagement and contribution of U21 in global e-health.


Leslie Versweyveld

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