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On Tuesday, 17 January, at its headquarters in Washington, DC, the Organization of the American States (OAS) held a debate in which three technology and telecommunications experts debated, “hemispheric cooperation to promote access to technology”.

A virtual and live audience participated in the discussion, which Peter Hakim, President Emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue, moderated.  The event was part of a series of roundtables in preparation for the VI Summit of the Americas in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. 

The Secretary General of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza made introductory remarks and prompted the discussion stating, “What we would like to know is how through these technologies we can transform education, improve our health and improve governance, both in terms of its transparency and the quality of decision-making and effectiveness.”

Insulza suggested that although most countries understand that they need to take action and cooperate with each other to increase access to technology, many countries need additional guidance to direct their efforts. 

In the discourse, Marcelo D’Agostino, panelist and manager to the Area of Knowledge Management and Communication at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), briefly mentioned the eHealth Strategy and Plan of Action, which 38 Member States approved in the 51st PAHO Directing Council.

eHealth serves as a tool to promote and facilitate horizontal cooperation among countries for the development of a digital health agenda for the Region of the Americas.

Vice President for the Americas at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Jodi Hanson Bond, explained that access to technology improves the quality of life of the population by overcoming geographical and time limitations. Bond recounted her experience working on a project at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in which Motorola and USAID collaborated to provide wireless communications to a rural town in Peru.  She explained that the initiative allowed health professionals to consult with medical experts in real time, and farmers to determine market prices for their crops.

The project in Peru also benefited local government officials by connecting them to federal offices allowing for faster processing of information.  The benefits of using technology can heighten efficiency in time and resource allocation, improve input for complex decision-making and set priorities. 

Insulza also mentioned that advancements have been made in levels of transparency and efficiency, as well as in citizen participation, which strengthens the democratic governance of the Americas Region.

The panelists agreed that governments need to implement policies and regulations that support access to technology to improve the standard of living. 

D’Agostino advised that governments define the national digital agendas, and stand as the principal regulating entity.   He strongly believes that governments need to formulate, execute, and evaluate effective, comprehensive, and sustainable public policies.

Bond added, “As a country you need to implement policies and regulations that make it favorable so that countries not only gain access to technology, but also help improve the socio-economic development in the region.”

Panelists argued that to promote sustainable development, economic and socio-sanitary, the public- and private-sectors should invest in human capital through training programs. “Governments should avoid blanket investing in technology and should consider some factors such as sustainability, scalability and training,” said Bond.

The eHealth Strategy and Plan of Action presents components that include eLearning and continuing education in information and communication technologies, as a means to improve the quality of, and increase the access to, education.

Along with making new and innovative forms of education available to more people, Bond emphasized the importance of educating people on how to use these technologies.  She shared a case study from Costa Rica where 74 percent of teachers had access to technology at home, but 80 percent of them did not know how to apply it in their classrooms. 

D’Agostino emphasized that governments should address topics such as access to distance learning and professional development.  “They are the only ones capable of implementing a project such as eHealth at the national level and reducing the inequalities that exist,” he said.

Carlos Arguello, Founder and Director of Studio C, a computer animation and visual effects studio based in Guatemala,  noted that the region has a lot of talent and that “it is not a matter of technology having become more difficult, but that it exists in a different form (…) Before we had structured in which one person had the knowledge and distributed that knowledge, but now it is completely different. Knowledge is everywhere.”

Ambassador Jaime Giron, Coordinator of the VI Summit of the Americas, closed the event by reminding the audience that increasing access to technology is a civic duty and responsibility. He said, “This is a task for everyone, some because we can contribute; others because we must be ready to receive and share.”

The video of the event is available at the following webpage:

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