Health Policy

E-health is C’wealth’s new agenda

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The 53-nation Commonwealth launches world’s first international e-health initiative across countries and continents recently in an attempt to harness its members’ evidentially extraordinary appetite for hi-tech with health-friendly governance. Ernest Massiah, head of health at the London-headquartered Commonwealth secretariat, which organises an annual health ministers’ meeting in Geneva, said the e-health focus could be a revolution in the making, potentially offering fast-track development opportunities to poor people spread across the Commonwealth. India, he said, could provide crucial hands-on knowledge because “health workers in some parts (of India) are even now, sending text messages to the central authorities with key epidemiological data”. The Commonwealth’s new ‘big idea’ is all about how to translate “the amazing diffusion of new technology, such as the mobile phone” into the field of health, where most member-countries significantly lag behind the developed western world. E-health is a leap of faith for the Commonwealth, which has normally focused its annual health meetings on safer subjects such as last year’s non-communicable diseases. Massiah, en route to Geneva for the annual conference, which will be attended by India and other countries, insisted the Commonwealth had to acknowledge a basic fact, namely that the growth rate of internet access is faster than the global average within its member states. “There are six billion people on the planet and three billion cellphones. It is unprecedented and the fastest rate of technology-take-up is in the Commonwealth,” said Massiah. E-health, therefore, is an idea whose time the Commonwealth now deems to have come. In a bullish statement of intent, the association, often derided as a fuddy neo-imperial talking shop, says the e-health initiative “addresses the reality that the whole world is becoming digitalised

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