WHO highlights need for smarter use of covid-19 surveillance data
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WHO highlights need for smarter use of covid-19 surveillance data

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is calling for better use of information from Coronavirus (COVID-19) surveillance systems in order to rein in the virus.

“We need to get smarter in using the evidence and the information we have from our COVID-19 surveillance systems to improve the only way we have to minimise transmission: find, isolate, test and care for every case.

Trace and quarantine every contact,” WHO Director for Europe Hans Kluge said at a press conference on Thursday.

“Digital technologies have proved to be powerful tools to fight COVID-19,” he said, highlighting initiatives in this regard taken in various countries.

In France, an artificial intelligence–based virtual phone assistant is able to respond to more than a thousand people at the same time, Kluge noted.

Italy is testing the use of an AI-based technology that utilizes a smartphone app and camera to capture vital statistics such as heart rate, heart rate variability, oxygen saturation and respiration rate in real time, he recalled.

In Sweden, telemedicine has been used to support traditional care, particularly in rural settings, and is now being used for enhanced COVID-19 response, Kluge indicated.

However, “digital technologies have also exposed us to a tsunami of information and have raised many issues around data protection and privacy,” Kluge said, stressing that digital health must be integrated “carefully and wisely, in partnership with the public and patients.”

Noting that digital tools rely on public trust, the WHO official underlined the need to preserve fundamental human and gender rights in digital environments.

”It is the responsibility of governments to address data ownership, use, consent and protection,” he said.

For his part, Clayton Hamilton, head of WHO-Europe’s E-Health and Innovation Unit, stresses that it is not just a question of technical aspects, but also of good governance and accountability.

The WHO also zoomed in on the digital gap. “We cannot afford to have people that cannot afford digital health,” Kluge said.

“Not all social groups are equally able to harness the potential of digital technologies to combat the virus,” he stressed.

“Full potential of digital health is yet to be realized,” the WHO-Europe director stressed. “It is about empowering people to make healthy lifestyle decisions to create a European culture of health.” “Ultimately, it is about leaving no one behind,” he concluded.

The Brussels Times

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