Member States of the WHO Regional Office for Europe adopt the Region’s first-ever digital health action plan

On September 12-14, after two years online, the 53 Member States from across Europe and Central Asia were invited to the 72nd session of the Regional Committee for Europe (RC72), held in Tel Aviv, Israel. One of the approved action plans concerns one of the flagship initiatives of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, Digital Health, which aims to harness the digital transformation in Europe and Central Asia to improve people’s health and well-being.

Digital Health is one of the 4 priority areas of the WHO European Program of Work 2020-2025 (ETP) “Delivering as One for Better Health in Europe”. This new action plan is a concrete step towards realizing the TEP through digital tools including AI, Big Data, Blockchain, Health Data, Health Information Systems, Infodemic, IoT, Interoperability and Telemedicine.

Developed after consultation with partners and the 53 countries in the region, it takes into account countries’ priorities in these and other areas, as well as their needs and challenges, including the issues faced by vulnerable groups.

The adoption of this new action plan on September 12th recognizes the essential role and potential of digital tools in the healthcare sector and builds on the lessons learned in almost three years with the coronavirus pandemic. It should thus make it possible to make progress towards universal health coverage, protect the population from health emergencies and promote health and well-being in the Region.

Hans Henri P. Kluge, physician and Regional Director, WHO Regional Office for Europe, says:

“Digital health should be viewed as a means of achieving health goals, not as a solution to a health problem or need.”

He adds :

“To be useful and truly promote better health, digital tools require responsible stewardship, proper laws and policies that encourage their healthy use while providing training and support to the people who use them – healthcare workers and patients – who use them need to make the most of it.”

Digital tools to address healthcare challenges

At RC 72, delegates approved plans to better address and end several diseases that remain challenging, including cervical cancer, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, and viral hepatitis.

They adopted the first-ever European framework for action to achieve the highest possible level of health for the estimated 135 million people with disabilities in the WHO European Region, and also endorsed a framework to address the harm caused by alcohol in the region, where 2,500 people die every day alcohol-related diseases.

The wider adoption of digital health tools can really help governments and people across the region address these current health challenges, including those caused by the pandemic.

Digital Health enables the concept of electronic health (e-health) to be extended to areas such as:

  • telemedicine, which allows access to health services regardless of where you live;
  • Health data and information systems – providing authorities with the information they need to develop health policies;
  • AI and big data that help clinicians, providers and decision makers plan or implement interventions;
  • fighting the online infodemic to help people trust quality health information.

Putting the patient at the center of digital solutions

In order for digital solutions to really take off, it is necessary that the people who use them have the appropriate training and knowledge and therefore make them available.

Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat, MD and Director of the Division for Country Health Policies and Systems at the WHO Regional Office for Europe, says:

“WHO/Europe is here to help countries embrace the use of digital tools in an inclusive and transparent way, while protecting the privacy and unique needs of individuals.”

She continues:

“The digital literacy of all users should be one of the key elements of any effective digital health strategy. Together with the authorities in our region, we are working on solutions that focus on the needs of patients and medical staff.”

The plan encourages countries to prioritize improving digital health literacy while recognizing the needs of citizens and health workers and promoting an integrated care approach that institutionalizes digital health in the region.

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