Communication Technology to Provide Critical Support for WHO's


in Communicable Disease Management Around the World


A Proposal from the World Health Organization

June 1999

To properly monitor outbreaks and prevent the spread of infectious diseases, whether endemic or newly-emerging, exchange of information between geographically distributed public health institutions must be facilitated. For many years, it has been the desire of the World Health Organization (WHO) to see the technology for this information flow improved. Gradual progress has taken place but much more is needed. WHO's Communicable Diseases Cluster needs improved telecommunications to keep in close touch with all national Ministries of Health, WHO country representatives and the WHO regional offices. Reliable and appropriate telecommunications between WHO and WHO collaborating centres of expertise throughout the world, including the proposed NetRED regional centres, will greatly enhance WHO's abilitiy to respond effectively to public health emergencies. Close contact with laboratories examining antimicrobial resistance in different parts of the world, for example, will pinpoint local antibiotic needs and facilitate the development and procurement of appropriate therapeutic responses.

Proposal to Improve Communications Infrastructure

In October 1996, a report was prepared on WHO's telecomunications needs in support of communicable disease management. While progress has been made in some areas outlined in the report, most of the findings and recommendations still hold true and are unfulfilled. The underlying approach is based on the concept of separating content management from telecommunications technology and on providing minimal, base-level staffing to coordinate communications. The report recommended the following:

The start-up costs for these essential improvements in global health communications is currently estimated roughly at a total of 1.5M USD. Following a start-up period of several years, ongoing costs will be considerably less.

WHO has sought support for strengthening communications infrastructure for infectious disease management for nearly three years. Some small steps have been taken; for example, recently the government of Switzerland seconded a technician to the WHO Regional Office for Africa in Harare to begin to set up a limited number of high-frequency radio links in remote areas. It is a good start, but only a start. Together, the States Paties to the BWC and its Protocol could help WHO finish the job of modernizing global health communications for the benefit of all.