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Countries pledge to promote health information as a public good in the Americas

Washington, D.C., 5 October 2012 (PAHO/WHO) - Health authorities from throughout the Americas endorsed a new regional Strategy and Plan of Action on Knowledge Management and Communications that promotes health information as a public good that should be free and widely accessible to help people make informed decisions about health issues.

Delegates from member countries of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) approved the strategy during the 28th Pan American Sanitary Conference, held Sept. 17-21 in Washington, D.C.

The strategy commits countries to developing inter-ministerial policies and plans on knowledge management and communication and to closing the gap between knowledge and decision-making in health in the region through the production and exchange of scientific information, communication, and access to and effective application of evidence-based knowledge to benefit health.

PAHO's Area Manager for Knowledge Management and Communications, Marcelo D'Agostino, presented the strategy and responded to comments from representatives of nine member countries.

The strategy provides guidance for countries to formulate and implement norms, policies, and procedures that promote free and equitable access to evidence-based health information as a basic right, as well as to form networks and use information and communication technologies effectively to benefit public health.

The countries of the Americas have widely varying capacities for dissemination and use of, as well as access to, scientific knowledge on health due to differences in human and technological resources. In comparison with other regions, the rate of production of information on health is low in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the strategy. D'Agostino noted that "tools and projects such as the Virtual Health Library, led by BIREME [the Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Sciences Information] since 1998, address many of these challenges."  

Among the problems facing the region in this area are lost opportunities for capturing and promoting knowledge related to public health in PAHO member countries; the limited capacity for producing, classifying, preserving, and disseminating scientific and technical information on health; lack of incorporation of communication in countries' health strategies as a tool for improving health; and unequal access to health information and communication for vulnerable populations.

To address these challenges, the strategy recommends the following actions to be taken between 2013 and 2018:

  • Promote the implementation of public policies for the development and dissemination of evidence-based health information and knowledge.
  • Support and promote public health initiatives and settings that facilitate the creation of, access to, and dissemination of health knowledge, including continuing education, virtual collaboration platforms, and efforts to increase the visibility of health research in countries. 
  • Promote and facilitate collaboration to strengthen alliances and networks among the countries of the region to strengthen knowledge management and health communication.
  • Promote health information and communication programs that seek individual, social, and political changes to improve health.

PAHO/WHO will support these lines of action by providing technical cooperation in knowledge management and communication and through strategic networks that promote digital literacy and ensure good use of quality information. PAHO/WHO will also facilitate the dissemination of studies, reports, and practices that can serve as models for knowledge management and communication, and will also develop a network of collaborating centers on health information, knowledge, and communication in cooperation with member countries.

PAHO celebrates its 110th anniversary this year and is the world's oldest international public health organization. It works with all the countries of the hemisphere to improve the health and quality of life of the peoples of the Americas and serves as the WHO Regional Office for the Americas.

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