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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

Joint ITU-WHO Workshop on e-Health Standards and Interoperability

Geneva, Switzerland, 26 April 2012

Opening Remarks

Ladies and Gentlemen

Colleagues and friends

On behalf of the ITU Secretary-General I am very pleased to welcome you to this joint ITU/WHO workshop on e-health standards and interoperability.

I would like to thank WHO for their excellent collaboration in putting together this workshop with us. We hope it will be the first of a series of joint ITU/WHO workshops held around the world in the following months and years.

With a growing, ageing, population in the 21st century, it is clear that one of the areas where ICTs can help make the greatest difference is in the provision and delivery of healthcare.

The humanitarian and financial toll of disease – be it from an individual perspective or from endemic or epidemic proportions - is today greater than ever. And ICTs are now understood to play a pivotal role in increasing efficiency and quality in delivery of health care, and reducing risk and suffering, particularly among the most vulnerable communities in developing countries.

Among many examples where a difference can be made include:

  • Access to health advice
  • Training for healthcare workers
  • Patient monitoring and remote consultation
  • epidemic tracking and Data collection
  • Access to emergency services
  • Management of patient records
Health data and information can be made more accessible to the public as well as policymakers, researchers, healthcare providers and professionals. The Commission on Information and Accountability for Women and Children’s Health has been established by ITU and WHO to develop a framework for global reporting, oversight and accountability – essential activities in ensuring that targets are met and goals are achieved.

However, in e-health unfortunately standardized solutions are rare. Interoperability is a key determinant of e-Health’s efficient and equitable rollout. This is not an area where we can least afford to have costly squabbles over proprietary technologies. International standards will bring down costs, increase access, and improve efficiencies.

ITU’s mission is to produce interoperable, non-discriminatory, international standards. We have around 3000 standards currently which are available for downloading free of charge from our website, and we produce around 250 new standards each year in 10 study groups.

Alongside its long-standing history of international standards development, ITU has a global outreach capacity able to mobilize support in all corners of the world; and we can leverage our membership of 193 governments and over 700 private sector entities, and now academia. Since the beginning of last year universities and research institutes have been able to join ITU and we already have 38 academia members benefiting from the greatly reduced membership fee of $2000 for those in developing countries and $4000 for those in developed countries.

Earlier this year, ITU established a Focus Group on the machine to machine (M2M) Service Layer which initially will explore the trends and standardization demands of all aspects of the M2M field as it relates to e-Health. Reliable, interoperable international standards will be key to providing patients and health professionals with the full range of e-health information services.

The Focus Group was established in response to a request from WHO, as well as our Chief Technology Group.

The Focus Group is open to non ITU members and I believe it is an important initiative in the enormously complicated M2M field. Clearly the connection of 50 billion devices will need some standardization and for e-health applications there is no margin for error. You are all invited to join this Focus Group.

In addition, our ITU-T Study Group 17 (Security) is working on telebiometrics, our Study Group 13 (Future Networks) is working on a standard for enabling e-health monitoring, and Study Group 16 on multimedia frameworks for e-Health.

A joint event in March of this year between ITU and Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) adopted a Call for Action encouraging the development of e-Health standards in ITU-T.

Finally, for a more general analysis of the e-Health standardization you can find on our website the Technology Watch Report “E-health standards and interoperability” which is being used as a background paper for this workshop. Copies are available in the back of the room. It was prepared by Dr Laura DeNardis who will be giving our keynote shortly.

You will also be interested some other ITU events later this year:

There will be an e-Health Track at ITU Telecom World 2012 in Dubai in October which will consist of a set of four sessions addressing business, policy/regulatory, technology, deployment, and users.

In addition also in Dubai ahead of the ITU World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA-12) the Global Standards Symposium (GSS 2012) on 19 November will focus on the standards challenges in a world where ICT intersects increasingly with other sectors, and the lessons learned on e-Health in particular. This will feed into WTSA starting the following day and consequently the ITU-T’s work programme for the next four years. WTSA will also have a side event on e-Health on 21 November featuring e-health experts focusing on the next steps to be taken in e-health standardization and showcasing different areas of e-health applications. I am pleased to say WHO will be participating in both in the GSS and the side event.

So as you can see here in ITU we are very keen to make a significant contribution in this area and our hope is that this workshop will give ITU and WHO some clear direction on the work we need to do to ensure interoperability of these vital e-health services of the future.

Again I thank WHO for their collaboration and Dr Najeeb Al-Shorbaji especially, and I wish you an enjoyable and productive workshop.