World Intellectual Property Organization

Acronym: WIPO

Address: 34, chemin des Colombettes, CH-1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland

Website: https://wipo.int

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a UN agency functioning as a global forum for intellectual property (IP) related services (patents, copyright, trademarks, and designs), policy, information, and co-operation. The organisation was established in 1967 and it currently has 188 member states, in addition to over 200 observers representing non-governmental organisations and intergovernmental organisations.

WIPO’s activities are focused on: Contributing to the development of a balanced and effective international IP system; providing global services to protect IP at a global level and to resolve disputes; sharing of knowledge and information on IP-related issues; and encouraging co-operation and offering capacity building programmes ​aimed to enable countries to use IP for economic, social, and cultural development.

Digital Activities

WIPO provides domain name dispute resolution services, through its Arbitration and Mediation Center. In this regard, the organisation has developed (in collaboration with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)) the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) – the main domain name dispute resolution mechanism for conflicts on the right to register and use domain names under certain generic top level domains (gTLDs). The Center also administers disputes under a number of specific policies adopted by individual gTLD registries and provides domain name dispute resolution services for over 70 country code top level domains (ccTLDs).

The organisation administers the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonogram Treaty (known as the ‘Internet Treaties’), which contain international norms aimed at preventing unauthorised access to and use of creative works on the Internet or other digital networks. It also carries out research and provides recommendations on issues related to the protection of intellectual property rights in the digital environment (especially with regards to copyright and trademarks).

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence 

WIPO is paying particular attention to the interplay between artificial intelligence (AI) and IP. In December 2019, it published a draft issue paper on AI and IP, which was later revised based on public comments and re-published in May 2020. The paper explores the (potential) impact of AI on IP policies in areas such as copyright and related rights, patents, trademarks, designs, and overall IP administration. Building on this exploratory work, WIPO is leading a Conversation on IP and AI, bringing together governments and other stakeholders, to discuss the impact of AI on IP. WIPO is also working on an AI and IP strategy clearing house, through which it is collating government instruments (strategies, regulations, etc.) that are relevant to AI and IP. The organisation is additionally developing and deploying AI solutions in the context of various activities; relevant examples are the WIPO Translate and WIPO Brand Image Search, which use AI for automated translation and image recognition.

Alternative dispute resolution 

WIPO’s activities in regard to the Domain Name System revolve around the protection of trademarks and related rights in the context of domain names. It has developed, together with ICANN, the UDRP. Under this policy, WIPO’s Arbitration and Mediation Centre provides dispute resolution services for second level domain name registrations under gTLDs to which the UDPR applies. The Arbitration and Mediation Centre also administers disputes under specific policies adopted by some gTLD registries (e.g. .aero, .asia, .travel). In addition, the Centre offers domain name dispute resolution services for over 70 country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). WIPO has developed a ccTLD Program, with the aim to provide advice to many ccTLD registries on the establishment of dispute resolution procedures. WIPO also contributes to the work carried out within the framework of ICANN in regard to the strengthening of existing trademark rights protection mechanisms or the development of new such mechanisms.

Intellectual property rights 

Trademarks: WIPO has long been involved in issues related to the protection of trademarks in the context of the Domain Name System. The first phase of the WIPO Internet Domain Name Process, carried out in 1991, explored trademark abuse in second-level domain names, and led to the adoption, by ICANN, of the UDRP. WIPO has also contributed to the development of several trademark rights protection mechanisms applicable to generic top-level domains  (such as legal rights objections, the Trademark Clearinghouse, and the uniform rapid suspension system). The WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Centre administers trademark-related dispute resolution cases for several gTLDs and ccTLDs.

Copyright: WIPO is actively contributing to international discussions on the protection of copyright in the digital environment. The organisation administers the ‘Internet Treaties’, which contain international norms aimed at preventing unauthorised access to and use of creative works on the Internet or other digital networks. Among others, the treaties clarify that existing IP rights apply on the Internet, but also introduce new ‘online rights’. WIPO also carries out research and organises seminars and other meetings on aspects concerning challenges and possible solutions for the protection of copyright and related rights in the digital era.

Liability of intermediaries 

Given WIPO’s concerns with regard to the protection of copyright and related rights on the Internet, the organisation is exploring issues related to the roles and responsibilities of Internet intermediaries when it comes to online copyright infringements. The organisation carries out or commissions research and publishes studies on the relationship between copyright and Internet intermediaries (such as comparative analysis of national approaches of the liability of Internet intermediaries), and organises events (seminars, workshops, sessions at the World Summit on the Information Society Forum and Internet Governance Forum meetings, etc.) aimed at facilitating multistakeholder discussions on the potential liability of Internet intermediaries in relation to copyright infringements.

Sustainable development 

WIPO is of the view that IP is a critical incentive for innovation and creativity, and, as such, a key to the success of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The organisation works to enable member states to use the IP system to drive the innovation, competitiveness, and creativity needed to achieve the SDGs. It does so, for instance, through supporting countries in their efforts to build an innovative IP ecosystem, providing legislative advice on updating national IP laws, and supporting judiciary systems in keeping up with technological innovation. WIPO’s contribution to the implementation of the Agenda 2030 is guided by its Development Agenda.

Climate change 

WIPO’s Global Challenges programme brings together various stakeholders to explore issues related to green technologies and the environment. For instance, it hosts WIPO Green, a multistakeholder platform aimed to promote innovation and diffusion of green technologies, and it provides analysis of relevant IP issues to facilitate international policy dialogue.

Digital tools

WIPO is using multiple digital tools in relation to its services. Below are some examples:

  • WIPO Match – platform that matches seekers of specific IP-related development needs with potential providers offering resources
  • WIPO Proof – a service that provides a date- and time-stamped digital fingerprint of any file
  • Madrid e-services – online tools and resources
  • Electronic Forum – enables the electronic distribution and submission by email of comments concerning preliminary draft working documents and draft reports.
  • WIPO Academy, which also includes an eLearning Centre
  • Platforms for online meetings (not so clear which platform(s) WIPO is using)

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Acronym: UNECE

Address: Palais des Nations, 8-14 Avenue de la Paix CH-1211, Geneva 10, Switzerland

Website: https://unece.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is one of five regional commissions of the UN. Its major aim is to promote pan-European economic integration. To do so, it brings together 56 countries in Europe, North America, and Asia, which discuss and co-operate on economic and sectoral issues.

UNECE works to promote sustainable development and economic growth through policy dialogue, negotiation of international legal instruments, development of regulations and norms, exchange and application of best practices, economic and technical expertise, and technical co-operation for countries with economies in transition. It also sets out norms, standards, and conventions to facilitate international co-operation.

Digital Activities

UNECE’s work touches on several digital policy issues, ranging from digital standards (in particular in relation to electronic data interchange for administration, commerce, and transport) to the Internet of Things (e.g. intelligent transport systems and automated driving). Its UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) develops trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards, covering both commercial and government business processes. UNECE also carries out activities focused on promoting sustainable development, in areas such as sustainable and smart cities for all ages; sustainable mobility and smart connectivity; and measuring and monitoring progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

UNECE’s work in the field of statistics is also relevant for digital policy issues. For example, the 2019 Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation – which guides countries through the process of reviewing and revising statistical legislation – covers issues such as open data, national and international data exchanges, and government data management.

Digital policy issues

E-commerce and trade 

UNECE’s subsidiary, CEFACT, serves as a focal point (within the UN Economic and Social Council) for trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards, covering both commercial and government business processes. In collaboration with the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standardisation (OASIS), UNECE developed the Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language (ebXML). Another output of UNECE is represented by the UN rules for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport (UN/EDIFACT), which include internationally agreed upon standards, directories, and guidelines for the electronic interchange of structured data between computerised information systems. UNECE has also issued recommendations on issues such as electronic commerce agreements and e-commerce self-regulatory instruments. CEFACT also works on supporting international, regional, and national e-government efforts to improve trade facilitation and e-commerce systems.

Digital standards 

UNECE’s subsidiary body CEFACT has developed, together with OASIS, the Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language (ebXML) standard (containing specifications which enable enterprises around the world to conduct business over the Internet). UNECE’s standardisation work has also resulted in the development of EDIFACT), as well as other digital standards in areas such as agriculture (e.g. electronic crop reports, electronic animal passports, and fishering languages for universal eXchange), e-tendering, and transfer of digital records.

Internet of things 

As part of its work in the field on intelligent transport systems, UNECE carries out several activities in the field of automated driving. It hosts multilateral agreements and conventions ruling the requirements and the use of these technologies (such as the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic). Its activities (e.g. facilitating policy dialogue and developing regulations and norms) are aimed at contributing to enabling automated driving functionalities and to ensuring that the benefits of these technologies can be captured without compromising safety and progress achieved in areas such as border crossing and interoperability. It also collaborates with other interested stakeholders, including the automotive and information and communication technology (ICT) industries, consumer organisations, governments, and international organisations.

Another area of work for UNECE is related to harnessing smart technologies and innovation for sustainable and smart cities. In this regard, it promotes the use of ICTs in city planning and service provision and it has developed (together with the ITU) a set of key performance indicators for smart sustainable cities. UNECE also works to facilitate connectivity through sustainable infrastructure. For instance, it assists countries in developing smart grids for more efficient energy distribution, and it administers international e-roads, e-rail, and e-waterway networks.

Blockchain 

UNECE’s subsidiary body CEFACT has been exploring the use of blockchain for trade facilitation. For instance, work carried out within the Blockchain White Paper Project has resulted in two white papers: One looking at the impact of blockchain on the technical standards work of CEFACT and another looking at how blockchain could facilitate trade and related business processes. The ongoing Chain Project is focused on developing a framework/mechanism for the development and implementation of blockchain services infrastructure, and creating a whitepaper on strategy for development and implementation of interoperable global blockchain technology infrastructure. Another blockchain-related project looks into the development of a standard on the creation of a cross-border inter customs ledger using blockchain technology.

Digital and environment 

UNECE’s work in the area of environmental policy covers a broad range of issues, such as the green economy, shared and safe water, environmental monitoring and assessment, and education for sustainable development. Much of this work is carried out by the Committee on Environmental Policy, which, among other tasks, supports countries in their efforts to strengthen their environmental governance and assesses their efforts to reduce their pollution burden, manage natural resources, and integrate environmental and socioeconomic policies. UNECE has put in place an Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Programme to assist member states in working with environmental data and information and enable informed decision-making processes. As part of this programme, it promotes the use of electronic tools for accessing information and knowledge on environmental matters and is developing a Shared Environmental Information System across the UNECE region. The system is intended to enable countries to connect databases and make environmental data more accessible.

UNECE Environmental Conventions (not necessarily covering digital issues directly, but relevant)

Sustainable development 

UNECE assists countries in its region to address sustainable development challenges (in areas such as environment, connectivity, and urbanisation) through leveraging its norms, standards and conventions, building capacities, and providing policy assistance. It focuses on driving progress towards the following SDGs: 3 (good health and well-being), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 7 (affordable and clean energy), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action), and 15 (life on land). SDG 5 (gender equality) and 17 (partnerships) are overarching for all UNECE activities. Activities undertaken by UNECE in relation to these SDGs converge under 4 high-impact areas: sustainable use of natural resources; sustainable and smart cities for all ages; sustainable mobility and smart connectivity; and measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs.

UNECE has developed a series of tools and standards to support countries in measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs. It has also put in place an Innovation Policy Outlook which assesses the scope, quality, and performance of policies, institutions and instruments promoting innovation for sustainable development.

Data governance 

UNECE carries out multiple activities of relevance for the area of data governance. To start with, its work on trade facilitation also covers data management issues. For example, it has issued a White Paper on a data pipeline concept for improving data quality in the supply chain and a set of Reference Data Model Guidelines. Several projects carried out in the framework of UNECE’s subsidiary CEFACT also cover data-related issues. Examples include the Cross-border Management Reference Data Model Project (aimed to provide a regulatory reference data model within the CEFACT semantic library in order to assist authorities to link this information to the standards of other organisations) and the Accounting and Audit Reference Data Model Project.

Secondly, UNECE has a Statistical Division which coordinates international statistical activities between UNECE countries and helps to strengthen, modernise, and harmonise statistical systems, under the guidance of the Conference of European Statisticians. Its activities in this area are guided by the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, adopted in 1992 and later endorsed by the UN Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. Areas of work include: economic statistics, statistics on population, gender and society, statistics related to sustainable development and the environment, and modernisation of official statistics. In 2019, UNECE published a Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation to guide countries through the process of reviewing and revising statistical legislation. The guidance covers issues such as open data, national and international data exchanges, and government data management.White Paper: Data Pipeline (2018)

Digital tools

UNECE Dashboard of SDG indicators

UNECE digital tools facilitating access to statistical information:

UNECE online platforms and observatories gathering updates and policy resources to help member states respond to the COVID-19 crisis:

Future of meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

  • Yes, UNECE Executive Committee – Special procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic (adopted in April 2020 and extended in July 2020 authorise the Chair of the Commission to convene remote informal meetings of the members of the Executive Committee. It also encourages UNECE subsidiary bodies to explore innovative formats to conduct business remotely. The Executive Committee held a remote informal meeting of members on 20 May 2020. Subsequently, its 110th meeting was also held online, on 10 July 2020.
  • The Conference of European Statisticians held its 68th plenary as a hybrid meeting on 22 June and as an informal virtual meeting on 23–24 June 2020.
  • Several UNECE groups have been holding online meetings. For instance, the 118th session of the Working Party on General Safety Provisions (GRSG) (15–17 July) was held via Webex, without interpretation, and is considered an informal meeting

Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?

  • UNECE Executive Committee – Special procedures during the COVID-19 period (adopted in April 2020 and extended in July 2020) refers to use of the silence procedure for decision-making.
  • Proceedings of the 118th session of GRSG: ‘Decisions taken during the informal virtual meeting will be circulated after the meeting in the three ECE official languages to the delegations of Contracting Parties via their missions in Geneva for final approval under silence procedure of 10 days.’

DiploFoundation

Address: 7bis, Avenue De La Paix, CH-1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://diplomacy.edu

Stakeholder group: Academia & think tanks

DiploFoundation is a leading global capacity development organisation in the field of Internet governance.

Diplo was established by the governments of Switzerland and Malta with the goal of providing low cost, effective courses and training programmes in contemporary diplomacy and digital affairs, in particular for developing countries. Its main thematic focuses are on Internet governance (IG), e-diplomacy, e-participation, and cybersecurity.

Diplo’s flagship publication ‘An Introduction to Internet governance’ is among the most widely used texts on IG, translated into all the UN languages and several more. Its online and in situ IG courses and training programmes have gathered more than 1500 alumni from 163 countries. Diplo also hosts the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP).

Diplo also provides customised courses and training both online and in situ.

Geneva Internet Platform

Acronym: GIP

Address: WMO Building, 7bis, Avenue de la Paix, CH-1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://giplatform.org

Stakeholder group: NGOs and associations

The Geneva Internet Plaform (GIP) is a Swiss initiative operated by DiploFoundation that strives to engage digital actors, foster digital governance, and monitor digital policies.

It aims to provide a neutral and inclusive space for digital policy debates, strengthen the participation of small and developing countries in Geneva-based digital policy processes, support activities of Geneva-based Internet governance (IG) and ICT institutions and initiatives, facilitate research for an evidence-based, multidisciplinary digital policy, bridge various policy silos, and provide tools and methods for in situ and online engagement that could be used by other policy spaces in International Geneva and worldwide. The GIP’s activities are implemented based on three pillars: a physical platform in Geneva, an online platform and observatory, and a dialogue lab.

Internet Governance Forum

Acronym: IGF

Address: Villa Bocage Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland

Website: https://intgovforum.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was established in Paragraph 72 of the Tunis Agenda of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) as a forum for multistakeholder policy dialogue. The mandate of the Forum is to discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance, in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability, and development of the Internet. Even though the IGF is not a decision-making body, its great potential lies in open discussions among all stakeholders on challenges and best practices related to the use and evolution of the Internet.

Starting 2006, the IGF holds annual meetings: Athens (2006), Rio de Janeiro (2007), Hyderabad (2008), Sharm El Sheikh (2009), Vilnius (2010), Nairobi (2011), Baku (2012), Bali (2013), Istanbul (2014), João Pessoa (2015), Guadalajara (2016). The programme of the annual meeting and the general direction of the IGF work are deliberated by the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) to the UN Secretary General.

The IGF Secretariat, currently based at the United Nations Office at Geneva, conducts the preparations for the annual IGF meetings, coordinates the IGF intersessional activities (between two annual meetings), and assists the MAG in its work.

World Health Organization

Acronym: WHO

Address: Avenue Appia 20, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://who.int

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialised agency of the UN whose role is to direct and co-ordinate international health within the UN system.

As a member state organisation, its main areas of work include health systems, the promotion of health, non-communicable diseases, communicable diseases, corporate services, preparedness, and surveillance and response.

The WHO assists countries in co-ordinating multi-sectoral efforts by governments and partners (including bi- and multilateral meetings, funds and foundations, civil society organisations, and the private sector) to attain their health objectives and support their national health policies and strategies.

Digital Activities

The WHO has strengthened its approach to data by ensuring this strategic asset has a dedicated division: the Division of Data, Analytics and Delivery for Impact. This has helped strengthen data governance by promoting sound data principles and accountability mechanisms, as well as ensuring that the necessary policies and tools are in place that can be used by all three levels of the organisation and can be adopted by member states. Digital health and innovation are high on the WHO’s agenda; it is recognised for its role in strengthening health systems through the application of digital health technologies for consumers/people and healthcare providers as part of achieving its vision of health for all.

The WHO also established the new Department of Digital Health and Innovation in 2019 within its Science Division. Particular attention is paid to: Promoting global collaboration and advancing the transfer of knowledge on digital health; advancing the implementation of national digital health strategies; strengthening the governance for digital health at the global, regional, and national levels; and advocating for people-centered health systems that are enabled by digital health.  These strategic objectives have been developed in consultation with member states throughout 2019 and 2020, and will be submitted for adoption to the upcoming 2021 World Health Assembly.

The Division of Data Analytics and Delivery for Impact and the Department of Digital Health and Innovation work closely together to strengthen links between data and digital issues, as well as data governance efforts. Digital health technologies, standards, and protocols enable health systems to integrate the exchange of health data within the health system. Coupled with data governance, ethics, and public health data standards, digital health and innovation enable the generation of new evidence and knowledge through research and innovation and inform health policy through public health analysis.

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the WHO’s digital response, collaboration, and innovation in emergencies. Some examples include: Collaborating to use artificial intelligence (AI) and data science in analysing and delivering information in response to the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’ (i.e. overflow of information, including misinformation, in an acute health event which prevents people from accessing reliable information about how to protect themselves);  promoting cybersecurity in the health system, including hospitals and health facilities; learning from using AI, data science, digital health, and innovation in social science research, disease modelling, and simulations, as well as supporting the epidemiological response to the pandemic; and producing vaccines and preparing for the equitable allocation and distribution of vaccines.

The WHO is a leader among Geneva-based international organisations in the use of social media, through its awareness-raising  for health-related issues. The WHO was awarded first prize at the Geneva Engage Awards in 2016, and second prize in 2017.

The WHO/International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Focus Group on artificial intelligence for health (FG-AI4H) works to establish a standardised assessment framework for the evaluation of AI-based methods for health, diagnosis, triage, or treatment decisions. https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/focusgroups/ai4h/

Be He@lthy, Be Mobile: Accessing the right information, when one needs it, is at the heart of this WHO-ITU initiative. In support of national governments, Be He@lthy, Be Mobile is helping millions of people quit tobacco, control diabetes and cervical cancer, help people at risk of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and care for older persons.

Digital policy issues

Data and artificial intelligence 

The response to COVID-19 reinforced the centrality of data and AI for the health sector and the WHO’s activities. Data and AI policies are covered by the following instruments.

Digital Standards: Integration of health information exchange (HIE) 

The WHO collaborates with health information exchange standardisation bodies and organisations, such as HIE and HL7 (Health Level 7), to promote sustainable investment into interoperable digital health technologies and systems. Digital health technologies, standards, and protocols enable health systems to integrate the exchange of health data within the health system. Coupled with data governance, ethics, and public health data standards, digital health and innovation enable the generation of new evidence and knowledge through research and innovation, and inform health policy through public health analysis.

Digital Accelerator Kits and computable guidelines: Ensure countries can effectively benefit from investments in digital systems, ‘digital accelerator kits’ are designed to ensure the WHO’s evidence-based guideline content is accurately reflected in the systems countries are adopting. Digital Accelerator Kits distill WHO guidelines and operational resources into a standardised format that can be more easily incorporated into digital tracking and decision support systems. This in turn enables standardised health information exchange within the health system.

WHO Guideline: recommendations on digital interventions for health system strengthening: Recommendations based on a critical evaluation of the evidence on emerging digital health interventions that are contributing to health system improvements, based on an assessment of the benefits, harms, acceptability, feasibility, resource use, and equity considerations.

Classification of digital health interventions v1.0 – A shared language to describe the uses of digital technology for health: The classification of digital health interventions categorises the different ways in which digital and mobile technologies are being used to support health system needs. A shared and standardised vocabulary was recognised as necessary to identify gaps and duplication, evaluate effectiveness, and facilitate alignment across different digital health implementations

Electromagnetic field and health protection 

As the digital reality moves from ‘cable’ to wireless traffic (wi-fi and mobile), a growing number of concerns are emerging on the impact of electromagnetic fields on human health. This technology has become part of the wider public debate and has given rise to conspiracy theories such as those that claim 5G spreads COVID-19. These concerns increase the importance of the WHO’s research and policy-making within a broader evidence-based discussion on the impact of wi-fi and mobile devices on health.

Model legislation for electromagnetic field protection (2006)

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) Standard for Safety Levels with Respect to Human Exposure to Radio Frequency Electromagnetic Fields, 3 kHz to 300 GHz

Online gaming 

Since 2018, gaming disorder has been included in the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD). While the negative impacts of online gaming on health are being increasingly addressed by national health policies, it has been recognised by some authorities, such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that some game-based devices could have a therapeutic effect. Given the fast growth of online gaming and its benefits and disadvantages, the implications on health are expected to become more relevant.

International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) (2018)

Domain names: The .health top-level domain name 

Health-related generic top-level domain (gTLD) names, in all languages, including ‘.health’, ‘.doctor’, and ‘.surgery’, should be operated in a way that protects public health and includes the prevention of further development of illicit markets of medicines, medical devices, and unauthorised health products and services.

Resolution WHA66.24: eHealth standardization and interoperability (2013)

Net neutrality 

The issue of net neutrality (the equal treatment of Internet traffic) could affect bandwidth and the stability of digital connections, especially for high-risk activities such as online surgical interventions. Thus, health organisations may be granted exceptional provisions, as the EU has already done, where health and specialised services enjoy exceptions regarding the principle of net neutrality.

Resolution WHA66.24: eHealth standardization and interoperability (2013)

Access 

The WHO uses digital technology intensively in its development of activities, ranging from building public health infrastructure in developing countries and immunisation to dealing with disease outbreaks. The organisation also integrates digital health interventions in its strategies for certain diseases. The WHO’s Global Observatory for e-Health[BRC2] aims to assist member states with information and guidance on practices and standards in the field of e-health. 

Cybersecurity 

The WHO has dedicated cybersecurity focal points, who are able to work with legal and licensing colleagues, that provide frameworks for the organisation to not only protect WHO data from various cyber-risks, but also provide technical advice to the WHO and members states on the secure collection, storage, and dissemination of data. Health facilities and health data have always been the target of cybercriminals; however, the COVID-19 crisis has brought into sharp focus the cybersecurity aspects of digital health.

Ransomware attacks threaten the proper functioning of hospitals and other healthcare providers. The global Wannacry ransomware attack in May 2017 was the first major attack on hospitals and disrupted a significant part of the UK’s National Health System (NHS). Ransomware attacks on hospitals and health research facilities have accelerated during the COVID-19 crisis.

Considering that data is often the main target of cyber-attacks, it should come as no surprise that most cybersecurity concerns regarding healthcare are centered around the protection of data. Encryption is thus crucial for the safety of health data: It both protects data from prying eyes and helps assuage the fears patients and consumers may have about sharing or storing sensitive information through the Internet.

Content policy: Infodemic 

An infodemic is an overflow of information, including misinformation, that prevents people from accessing reliable information; in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it hampers the ability of people to know how to protect themselves. Our current infodemic cannot be eliminated, but it can be managed by: producing engaging reliable content and using digital, traditional media, and offline tools to disseminate it; engaging key stakeholder groups in co-operative content creation and dissemination; empowering communities to protect themselves; and promoting community and individual resilience against misinformation. Digital health technologies and data science can support these activities by: analysing the information landscape and social dynamics in digital and analog environments; to deliver messages; supporting fact-checking and countering misinformation; promoting digital health, media, and health literacy; and optimising the effectiveness of messages and their delivery through real time monitoring and evaluation (M&E), among others.

At the Munich Security Conference (15 February 2020), WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated: ‘We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.’ This translated into many WHO initiatives to counter the infodemic, such as working with the public and the scientific community to develop a framework for managing infodemics; bringing the scientific community together for the first WHO infodemiology conference; the development of a draft research agenda on managing infodemics, co-operation with UN agencies and the AI community; promoting reliable WHO information through a co-ordinated approach with Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other major tech platforms and services; and campaigns to counter misinformation.

Digital tools

  • Emergency preparedness and response: The WHO maintains a portfolio of digital tools and methods for emergency preparedness and response, for example: GoData, Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources (EIOS), and Ethical considerations to guide the use of digital proximity tracking technologies for COVID-19 contact tracing.
  • WHO Digital and Innovation for Health online community to fight COVID-19: a platform for discussion and sharing experiences and innovative responses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Health Equity Monitor: a platform for health inequality monitoring which includes datatabases of disaggregated data; a handbook on health inequality monitoring; step-by-step manuals for national health inequality monitoring (generally and specifically for immunisation inequality monitoring);
  • Health Assessment Toolkit: software application that facilitates the assessment of health inequalities in countries. Inequality data can be visualised through a variety of interactive graphs, maps, and tables. Results can be exported and used for priority-setting and policy-making.
  • Harmonised Health Facility Assessment (HHFA): a comprehensive, external review tool for assessing whether health facilities have the appropriate systems in place to deliver services at required standards of quality.
  • District Health Information Software & Toolkit for Analysis and Use of Routine Health Facility Data: open source, web-based health management information system (HMIS) platform. The toolkit provides  standards and guidance for the analysis of Routine Health Information Surveys (RHIS) data for individual health programmes, as well as integrated analysis for general health service management.
  • WHO Health Data Hub (under development): a single repository of health data in the WHO and establish a data governance mechanism for member states.

Resources

  • Digital Health Atlas: The Digital Health Atlas is a global registry of implemented digital health solutions. It is open and available to anyone to register and contribute information about digital implementations. The registry provides a consistent way to document digital solutions, and offers functionalities in a web platform to assist technologists, implementers, governments, and donors for inventory, planning, co-ordinating, and using digital systems for health. The Digital Health Atlas includes a special focus on listing digital technologies related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The repository of information is open to all users to register projects, download project information, and connect with digital health practitioners globally. 
  •  Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS): registering all births and deaths, issues birth and death certificates, and compiles and disseminates vital statistics, including cause of death information. It may also record marriages and divorces.
  • WHO Classifications and Terminologies: operates a ‘one-stop-shop’ for WHO classifications and terminologies and is delivering and scaling use of terminologies and classifications.

The new Survey Count Optimise Review Enable (SCORE) for Health Data Technical Package:  published during one of the most data-strained public health crisis responses ever – that of the COVID-19 pandemic, score can guide countries to take action by providing a one-stop shop for best technical practices that strengthen health information systems, using universally accepted standards and tools.

The WHO has numerous platforms, instruments and monitoring mechanisms involving data exchanges and classification among its member states.

Monitoring health inequalities

The WHO’s digital and data efforts contributing to both sustainable development goal (SDG) 3 and Universal Health Coverage focus on identifying, understanding, and tracking progress in communities left behind. Measuring inequalities is crucial to identify differences in health between different population subgroups, which provides evidence for policies, programmes, and practices that tackle health inequities. Recognising this, the WHO has developed a number of tools and resources to build capacity for health inequality monitoring at global and national levels.

 All materials are publicly available through the WHO Health Equity Monitor, the WHO’s platform for health inequality monitoring, and include:

  • A large database of disaggregated data;
  • A handbook on health inequality monitoring;
  • Step-by-step manuals for national health inequality monitoring (generally and specifically for immunisation inequality monitoring);
  • Statistical codes for calculating disaggregated data using household survey data; and
  • A software application for assessing health inequalities (HEAT and HEAT Plus).

Building on these materials, the WHO delivers regular training workshops to build capacity for health inequality monitoring in WHO member states and regions.

The Health Equity Assessment Toolkit is a software application that facilitates the assessment of health inequalities in countries. Inequality data can be visualised through a variety of interactive graphs, maps, and tables. Results can be exported and used for priority-setting and policy-making.

There are two editions of this toolkit and further references are below:

  1. HEAT, the Built-In Database Edition, which contains the Health Equity Monitor database and
  2. HEAT Plus, the Upload Database Edition, which allows users to upload and work with their own databases.

Health Equity Monitor database: http://apps.who.int/gho/data/node.main.nHE-1540?lang=en

Health inequality monitoring handbook: https://www.who.int/data/gho/health-equity/handbook

Manual for health inequality monitoring: https://www.who.int/data/gho/health-equity/manual

Manual for health inequality monitoring in immunisation: https://www.who.int/data/gho/health-equity/manual_immunization

Statistical codes: https://www.who.int/data/gho/health-equity/statistical_codes

Health Equity Assessment Toolkit: https://www.who.int/data/gho/health-equity/assessment_toolkit

Capacity building: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/16549716.2017.1419739

Global and national reports: https://www.who.int/data/gho/health-equity/publications

Harmonized Health Facility Assessment modules – digital data collection and analysis of health service quality

The Harmonised Health Facility Assessment (HHFA) modules represent a comprehensive, external review tool for assessing whether health facilities have the appropriate systems in place to deliver services at required standards of quality.

Availability and quality of health services are integral to universal health coverage (UHC) and contribute to achieving the SDGs. The HHFA modules provide an in-depth assessment of facility service availability and quality, based on global health service standards, and using standardised indicators, questionnaires, and methodologies. HHFA data contribute to health sector reviews, planning, and policy-making and enable evidence-based decision-making to support the strengthening of health service delivery in a country.

There are four HHFA modules: 1) service availability, 2) service readiness, 3) quality and safety of care, and 4) management and finance. A module is defined as a set of questions (in questionnaire format) that aim to collect information for a defined set of indicators for a specific disease, programme, or service management area.

The standardisation of indicators and data collection methods promotes the alignment of health facility survey approaches among partners and enables comparability of results over time and among geographic areas.

The modular approach enables countries to adapt the HHFA to their needs based on the selection of core and additional indicators and targeting of various health facility levels. The implementation of the HHFA requires health facility visits to collect data through a variety of methods including facility audits, record reviews, provider interviews, observation, and client interviews. The HHFA can be carried out as a census of all facilities or as a representative sample of facilities.

Data collection is conducted using hand-held devices and questionnaires configured in the Census and Survey Processing System (CSPro), a software package for entering, editing, tabulating, and disseminating data from censuses and surveys. A comprehensive digital data analysis platform is in development to enable the efficient and secure analysis of data and the calculation of indicators with automated visualisation and report-creation functions.

The HHFA modules comprise a comprehensive package of downloadable tools: reference manual, questionnaires, indicator inventory, CSPro data collection tool, data analysis platform, implementation guide, and training materials.

Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS)

Monitoring health trends often requires numerators and denominators, and where possible in real time. Key denominators include birth and death registrations, and data from censuses. This type of monitoring is increasingly using digital technologies.

Move information not people: The WHO advocates for the use of electronic devices for the notification of vital events (births and deaths). Local informants (community health workers or village chiefs) can use mobile devices (phones or tablets) to notify the health facility or civil registration office of a birth or death in the community.  However, the registration of a birth or death is more a legal act that must be done in the presence of the next of kin and/or with witnesses in some count