Towards universal access to reliable healthcare information: What if WHO were to explicitly champion the goal of universal access?

9 July, 2024

Dear HIFA colleagues,

In 3 weeks we are holding our public online event 'Towards universal access to reliable healthcare information' (link below). Meanwhile I encourage discussion and debate here on the HIFA forum, in particular around the question: What if the World Health Organization were to explicitly champion the goal of universal access? We have discussed this question on the HIFA Steering Group and we believe this would be a game changer, leading to transformative change.

Below is an extract from the conclusion of the survey report, a question, and a comment from me.


“Improving the availability and use of reliable healthcare information is a neglected global health issue, and the vision of universal access to reliable healthcare information is currently absent from international and national policy, despite advances in information and technology across multidisciplinary sectors globally. This survey has demonstrated an overwhelming need for high-level support for universal access to reliable healthcare information and for the seven WMA recommendations to improve availability and use.

“Respondents agreed that WHO can do more to accelerate progress, by explicitly championing the goal of universal access and convening stakeholders to develop a global strategy. This strategy would serve to strengthen the global evidence ecosystem as a whole, thereby complementing existing initiatives that focus on individual parts of the system. WHO and HIFA are uniquely placed to take a leadership and supportive role, respectively...”


Respondents are calling on the World Health Organization to explicitly champion the goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. What if WHO were to do so? What are the next steps to securing such commitment?


The primary reason that people are dying for lack of access to reliable healthcare information is political. Tantalisingly the goal of universal access is implicit in WHO's Constitution, but absent in its policy. Consequently there is no global strategy. This in turn means that no government is encouraged or committed to take steps towards universal access, and the goal of universal access is absent among funders. Recall the words of global health leaders in The Lancet in 2006: they said the challenge (for funders, and especially for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) is to 'ensure that everyone in the world can have access to clean, clear knowledge - a basic human right, and a public health need as important as access to clean, clear water, and much more easily achievable'. But the challenge has remained unheeded. Political and financial commitment are absent and the goal is more elusive than ever.

An explicit commitment by WHO would be transformative. If WHO were to explicitly commit to universal access, the logical next step would be for WHO to convene stakeholders for the development of a global strategy to accelerate progress (and a global strategy is seen as the #1 priority by our survey respondents).

What can HIFA do? HIFA can facilitate discussion around the issues on the HIFA forums. We can support. We can advocate. But HIFA is very small and cannot achieve universal access alone. We need WHO to take the lead - WHO is uniquely placed to convene stakeholders around this neglected global health challenge. HIFA stands ready to support WHO, through our status as an NGO in official relations, together with 400+ supporting organisations that have endorsed the goal.

We look forward to your comments. As usual, please send them by email to:

Here again is the link to register for our online event on 30 July:

Here is the link for our press release, including links to our infographic and full report:

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: