High-tech hope for better global health

Vital Signs » Spring 2010

Even as modern technology is improving the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of illness and disease, patients in many parts of the world often lack access to even basic health technology. Katherine Cauley, Ph.D., associate professor of community health and director of the Center for Healthy Communities, is playing a key role in an international project whose goal is to address this disparity.

In June 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched its “Global Initiative on Health Technologies,” and Cauley was selected to serve on the project’s Expert Advisory Group for Innovative Technologies. She is the only U.S. representative to the group, which includes members from 23 countries spanning North, Central, and South America, as well as Africa, Australia, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The goal of the project is to bring the benefits of core health technologies to resource-scarce areas of the world. The project is organized by the Department of Essential Technologies within the WHO Division of Health Systems and Services and is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The three-year project began with a meeting in Singapore to review current global health issues and potential technology solutions. Based on this review, the committee collaborated virtually to develop a call for proposals, which was released in November 2009. In 2010 the committee will reconvene in Copenhagen to review proposals submitted by businesses and other organizations.

Cauley said the WHO may have invited her to participate in the project because of her work with HIEx™, a regional, community-based electronic health record project that is part of the Nationwide Health Information Network Cooperative.

The scope of the WHO project certainly encompasses information technology, Cauley said, “but it could also include everything from water treatment plants, to solid-state battery-operated surgical devices, to boosting food products to have more nutritional benefits.”

This broad approach is deliberate, as the WHO hopes to assess and potentially address a wide range of needs in varied and innovative ways.

In addition, Cauley said, it will allow the organization to “take advantage of the things that are going well in a country. If they’ve already got the water problem licked, or they’ve already got a good infrastructure for taking care of the elderly, or a good clinic system for maternal-child health, we can build on those resources and continue to support them while adding resources and technologies that can enhance the health of the community, and ultimately the country.” VS

Last edited on 10/14/2015.