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Reaching Universal Access to Health: Progress in eHealth in the Americas

Washington, D.C., December 17, 2012 (PAHO/WHO).– To promote the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for health, and thereby foster universal access to health in the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) has carried out a series of activities over the past year. It provided technical cooperation to 16 countries to facilitate eHealth policy-making and train dozens of health professionals and educators in how to use social networks, access information resources, and take advantage of mobile devices to prevent childhood obesity.

In September 2011, the 51st Directing Council of PAHO/WHO endorsed a strategy urging the Organization to work to improve health service accessibility and quality through the use of ICTs

According to Walter Curioso, Director-General of the Statistics and Information Office of Peru’s Ministry of Health, PAHO plays a very important role in strengthening national eHealth strategies and information systems. Verónica Granizo, the computer technician in charge of the health system at the Escuela Superior Politécnica de Chimborazo in Ecuador, stated that PAHO will provide assistance in the areas of legislation and the standardization of processes to facilitate implementation of eHealth systems at the regional and international level.

During the past year, PAHO/WHO’s work in eHealth has focused on six areas:
  • Formulating public policies on the innovative use of ICT in health, providing support to 16 countries in the Region: Argentina, Aruba, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and the United States.
     
  • Consolidating eHealth initiatives in the countries to prevent duplication of efforts and ensure optimal management of human and financial resources.
  • Encouraging horizontal cooperation among countries and intersectoral cooperation. One such activity was a joint workshop with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) to monitor eHealth policies and strategies in Latin America. At the workshop, experts from the Hemisphere shared information on progress and challenges that will be included in the second edition of the publication “eHealth in Latin America and the Caribbean: Progress and Challenges.” PAHO/WHO also held an “eHealth Conversation” in Colombia, bringing together academics and staff from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies and the Ministry of Health and Social Protection to facilitate dialogue among the parties and establish a national intersectoral eHealth network.
  • Improving public health through the use of ICT tools and methodologies—for example, the training that PAHO/WHO eHealth specialists provided to health and education professionals in Aruba on the use of social media networks and mobile devices to prevent childhood obesity. The workshop was conducted during the Second Pan American Conference on Obesity (PACO II). PAHO/WHO also launched a new mobile application called eGSHS that facilitates evidence-based decision-making for the health of school-aged youth in the Americas. Within this strategic area progress was also made on the Public eHealth Innovation and Equity in Latin America and the Caribbean (eSAC) Project, with the launch of an online community of best practices (esacproject.net) and an innovation contest.
  • Improving access to information. To advance this objective, PAHO/WHO held the Sixth Regional Coordination Meeting of the Virtual Health Library (VHL6) and hosted the Ninth Regional Congress on Health Sciences Information (CRICS9), attended by more than 400 participants from 30 countries. The topic of eHealth was a major focus at both meetings, along with the dissemination of reliable scientific information through social networks, distribution lists, and the regional laboratory--a place to share knowledge and best practices in ICTs for public health. PAHO/WHO also launched a monthly bulletin featuring eHealth information and resources.
  • Promoting knowledge management and digital literacy with the launch of a virtual course on access to information sources and the management of social networks, offered by PAHO/WHO in collaboration with academic institutions in Brazil and Spain through the Virtual Campus for Public Health. A series of virtual seminars was also launched to facilitate the sharing of experiences and the eHealth vision with the countries of the Americas. One such seminar was presented by Karl Brown, Associate Director of Applied Technology with the Rockefeller Foundation. 
 

Looking to the Future:

To ensure that technical cooperation is innovative and considers the state of the art in ICT for public health, PAHO has launched the “eHealth Conversations” project, bringing together more than 400 professionals to brainstorm and discuss the present and future of these topics. The main purpose of these virtual dialogues is to produce a series of publications that will serve as guides for decision-making in health systems within the framework of information societies.  

“To date, progress on the eHealth Strategy and Plan of Action has been based on the indicators established in that document, representing a critical link in the implementation of ICTs in public health in the Region and a start to promising years of implementation. This has been important, and I would like to acknowledge the support provided by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation in implementing the regional eHealth strategy,” said Marcelo D’Agostino, Manager of Knowledge Management and Communication at PAHO/WHO. 
 
Some components of eHealth are electronic medical records; telehealth, or distance health service delivery through use of information technologies; mHealth, or the use of mobile devices to monitor patients and promote health care; eLearning, or distance learning made possible by information technologies; continuing education in ICT for health professionals; and interoperability and standardization, implying that all technologies in this area are compatible and follow the same standards in eHealth
 
PAHO, which is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year, is the world’s oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries in 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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