Artificial intelligence (2) Strengthening the global evidence ecosystem and the role of WHO

10 November, 2023

I would also raise an important caveat, which is not addressed in Bill Gates' article. Our shared goal of empowering every individual, every health worker and every policymaker with the reliable information they need to protect their own health and the health of others cannot be achieved with a technical fix, whether it is open access, connectivity, or even artificial intelligence. AI addresses 'only' two aspects (packaging and finding evidence) of this global evidence ecosystem [ ].

To achieve universal access to reliable healthcare information, we need to complement specific efforts with a whole-system perspective, which is currently lacking. As we wrote in The Lancet in 2004, ‘The development of reliable, relevant, usable information can be represented as a system that requires cooperation among a wide range of professionals including health-care providers, policy makers, researchers, publishers, information professionals, indexers, and systematic reviewers. The system is not working because it is poorly understood, unmanaged, and under-resourced.’ HIFA's remit is to strengthen three weaknesses of the system identified in the Lancet paper: communication, understanding and advocacy. We are now in official relations with WHO since 2022. One of the questions in our recent global survey asked what more WHO could do to accelerate progress towards universal access to reliable healthcare information. The vast majority agreed or strongly agreed that WHO should 'Make a public commitment to accelerate progress towards universal access to reliable healthcare information'. This commitment is already implicit in WHO's Constitution (1948) and just this year WHO Deputy DG co-authored a paper 'Universal health information is essential for universal health coverage', indicating support at the highest levels. We are confident that WHO will explicitly champion the goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information and, more important, will use its convening power to effect acceleration in progress. HIFA is far too small to take on this role alone, but we shall continue to do what we can to fulfil our commitments in the WHO-HIFA Collaboration Plan:

Best wishes, Neil

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: