ITU – as the UN specialized agency for ICTs – continues to mobilize its global public-private membership and the tech community at large around key initiatives, including those aimed at COVID-19 response, sustainable development, and building back better post-pandemic. ITU's work highlights the need for all countries and regions to harness the full potential of ICTs, new and emerging tech and the associated digital transformation to cope with and recover from such crises.
Timely response and coordination
Right at the start of the pandemic, ITU launched the Global Network Resiliency Platform (REG4COVID), addressing the unprecedented stress put on telecommunication networks as more countries, companies, and individuals turned to digital technologies amid COVID-19. The platform helps policy makers, regulators, and industry players ensure that networks are kept resilient and telecoms services are available, as far as possible, to everyone.
In special emergency session in April 2020, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development adopted an Agenda for Action outlining immediate measures that governments, industry, the international community and civil society could take to shore-up digital networks, strengthen capacity at critical connectivity points like hospitals and transport hubs, and boost digital access and inclusivity, with the aim of strengthening collective response to the COVID-19 crisis.
ITU joined the World Bank, GSMA and the World Economic Forum in setting in motion concrete and immediate actions ranging from promoting network resilience to ensuring access and affordability of digital services, aiming to help governments, the private sector, and every citizen cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Digital Development Joint Action Plan and Call for Action issued in April 2020 sought to leverage digital technologies and infrastructure to maximum effect during the pandemic.
A series of webinars in April and May 2020 on “Digital Cooperation during COVID-19 and beyond" highlighted ways to secure safe, stable, affordable, and inclusive connectivity. The series – organized by ITU in cooperation with the Office of the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Digital Cooperation – helped identify possible solutions and common approaches and strategies from different nations and stakeholders.
Cooperation to expand connectivity
ITU and WHO, with support from UNICEF, have worked with telecommunication companies since the start of the pandemic to text people directly on their mobile phones with vital health messaging to help protect them from COVID-19, reaching all those who are not able to connect to the Internet for information.[A1] [MN2]
The Partner2Connect Digital Coalition, launched by ITU in September 2021 with support from the Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Technology, strives to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation in the world's hardest-to-connect countries, in line with the UN Secretary General's Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.
Also in the wake of COVID-19, ITU's Connect2Recover initiative aims to reinforce the digital infrastructure of developing countries and promote better uses of digital technologies, such as teleworking, e-commerce, remote learning and telemedicine, to support COVID-19 recovery, improve readiness for the “new normal", and help prepare for future pandemics.
Promoting AI for health
An AI for Good webinar series, drawing on expertise across the AI community, has delved into promising use cases for AI in healthcare and other areas in the face of COVID-19 and other global challenges.
AI can strengthen outbreak prediction and symptom classification. These are the subject of dedicated workstreams within the ITU-WHO Focus Group on AI for Health, a multi-stakeholder effort to establish a framework and associated processes for the performance benchmarking of 'AI for Health' solutions. A new ad-hoc group within the focus group aims to establish the best practices for AI use during each phase in the life-cycle of a public health emergency.
Bolstering online safety and security
For many parents, the question of how to ensure their children's online safety has become more pressing than ever before. ITU's new 2020 Guidelines on Child Online Protection, were recognized by the G20 as a vital tool for the protection and empowerment of children in the digital environment.
To help build a secure and trustworthy environment for those relying on ICTs during the COVID-19 crisis, ITU has been working with partners to make cybersecurity-related tools and resources available, and launched CYB4COVID, a comprehensive repository of cybersecurity expertise related to COVID-19, assisting countries, businesses and citizens in their response to amplified and new threats in the digital space during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lessons to enhance future response capacity
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum has offered Weekly WSIS TalkX sessions examining different aspects of the global response to COVID-19. Under the WSIS Stocktaking platform, which promotes the innovative use of digital technologies to achieve social impact, the ICT Case Repository has collected projects and activities dedicated to responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
Cities house over half of the world's population and amplifies the COVID-19 pandemic. United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) ─ an initiative coordinated by ITU, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and UN-Habitat and supported by another 14 UN bodies ─ has created a new workstream exploring the solutions and best practices used by cities to address the pandemic.
Last update: December 2021