By J Nastranis
NEW YORK (IDN) – With support from UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations specialized agency for information ((ITU) are set to work with telecommunication companies to text people directly on their mobile phones with vital health messaging to help protect them from COVID-19.
These text messages, as part of the joint ‘WHO-ITU Be initiative’, will reach billions of people who are not in a position to connect to the internet for information, said a joint statement on April 20.
ITU and WHO have called on all telecommunication companies worldwide to join to help unleash the power of communication technology to save lives from COVID-19.
“Now more than ever, technology must ensure that everyone can access the information they need,” said the statement. The collaboration will start in the Asia Pacific region and then roll out globally. The goal is to reach everyone with vital health messages, whatever their connectivity level.
An estimated 3.6 billion people remain offline. Most people who are unconnected live in low-income countries, where an average of just two out of every ten people are online.
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is the first pandemic in human history where technology and social media are being used on a massive scale to keep people safe, productive and connected while being physically apart.
The joint statement noted that health workers are utilizing telemedicine to diagnose patients and hospitals rely on being connected to coordinate and triage them. “Resilient and trustworthy telecommunication networks and services are essential, as more countries, companies and individuals turn to digital technologies to respond to and cope with the impact of COVID-19.”
Building on their longstanding collaboration, ITU and WHO are committed to identifying and scaling best evidence-based digital health solutions and to leveraging frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data to diagnose, contain and predict outbreaks better and faster, the joint statement added.
The ITU-WHO joint statement coincided with the UN announcing initial results of its initiative to help decide the future direction of the Organization. These have indicated support for international cooperation, which has grown significantly since COVID-19 first emerged in China at the beginning of the year.
The data, gathered from hundreds of conversations, and an online survey involving some 186 countries, form part of the United Nations’ 75th anniversary initiative (UN75). Launched in January 2020, this is the largest exercise mounted by the Organization to gather public opinion and crowdsource solutions to global challenges.
The results show that around 95 per cent of respondents – across all age groups and education levels – agree that countries need to work together to manage global issues. This almost unanimous response saw a noticeable upward trend from the end of February onwards, as the spread of COVID-19 began to cause major upheaval to health systems, the economy, and social norms.
Expectedly, the issue of health risks ranked high on the list of concerns raised by respondents, having risen sharply since early March.
In an interview with UN News, academic advisor for the UN, Cecilia Cannon, said that COVID-19 is a stark reminder of the need for the world to work together, and “a preview of the global catastrophe we are marching headlong into if we don’t find better ways to work together”.
Ms. Cannon is part of the team putting together the UN75 report. She added: “Even before COVID-19 began wreaking socio-economic havoc across the globe, the global challenges and trends requiring cooperation across borders were mounting: forced displacement; new challenges presented by technology; environmental degradation, change and disaster; health risks, to name just a few.”
The initiative, says Ms. Cannon, is being held at a time of “waning global cooperation, and a growing unwillingness of people to engage in dialogue with one another, especially with those who hold divergent views and opinions from their own.”
“At the global level”, she said, “we see this when disagreement among Member States is swiftly discredited as a failure of, or a retreat from, multilateralism, rather than a necessary part of it.”
Social media has made it “so easy to un-follow, un-friend or block someone who disagrees with you,” Ms. Cannon said and added: “Despite our connectivity, our worlds and worldviews are becoming smaller and smaller, and we are seeing increasing intolerance, hate speech and polarization within our societies and politics.” [IDN-InDepthNews – April 21, 2020]
Image credit: Independent Online (IOL), South Afruca.
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