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WHO director to address tech conference on pandemic

Jordan Wildon
May 20, 2020

The WHO director will speak for the first time outside official WHO press conferences since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic. Technological solutions have been floated as one way to stop a second wave.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks at the 73rd World Health Assembly at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland,
Image: picture-alliance/Xinhua/WHO

World Health Organization director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will speak at a virtual technology conference next month. Outside of his press conferences, this will be the first time Tedros will be interviewed publicly about the WHO's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As many countries begin to lift lockdown measures, focus on the fight against COVID-19 has developed into examining what measures can be taken to prevent a second wave of infections. Among the potential solutions are technological efforts, such as contact tracing and increased research and development of personal protective equipment.

The conference at which he will speak, Collision from Home, will focus on technological solutions, such as contact tracing, in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Tedros is expected to discuss the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic from the point of view of the WHO's access to the frontline response to the pandemic.

Read more: Coronavirus — How do I recognize a conspiracy theory?

Conspiracies, lies and the coronavirus 'infodemic'


The way in which digital technology is used has been thrust to the forefront of people's daily lives as work, communication, and even internet streaming capacity have been reassessed over the course of the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdowns. This digitization has also highlighted other societal-wide technical challenges, such as issues around cybersecurity, connectivity, and how false information spreads online.

Read more: How the US gun lobby exploits the coronavirus pandemic to further its aims

"We're not just fighting an epidemic; we're fighting an infodemic,” Tedros said at an address to the Munich Security Conference in February. The WHO explained that "infodemics" are caused by an excessive amount of information surrounding a problem, which make it difficult to identify a solution. This mix of misinformation, disinformation, and rumors around the coronavirus has exploded online, many of which have even been pushed by US President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, huge technology companies, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google have stepped up efforts to fight dubious information. Conspiracy theories have thrived online and spilled into the real world.

Read more: Coronavirus contact-tracing apps put users at risk, EU lawmaker says

Lifesaving technology

The technological challenges presented by the pandemic are not just limited to the digital space, but also with regards to development of personal protective equipment, medical devices, and diagnostics options as demand increases. Last week, the UN launched a coordinated approach to providing developing countries with lifesaving health technologies, such as ventilators.

Regarding the initiative, Tedros highlighted the need to support these countries to "slow new infections and avoid unnecessary deaths," adding, "COVID-19 has shown us that a disease outbreak anywhere is a threat everywhere."

On top of talks from across the healthcare industry, 350 other speakers across a wide range of talks across 33 topics are expected to attend the conference, notably including NBA All-Star Shaquille O'Neal, President of Microsoft Brad Smith, US Presidential candidate Andrew Yang and Facebook/Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower Christopher Wylie.

"The global pandemic has created a warlike scenario where the health industry is in an arms race, except the arms are not weapons — they are medical advancements that will save lives, such as tracking systems for contact tracing and super fast testing,” said Paddy Cosgrave, founder and CEO of Collision from home.

"We are desperate to return to any kind of ‘normal' and, now more than ever, we are relying on everyone in the field, from world leaders in medicine to the nurses on the frontline.

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