World Health Organization (WHO)


World Health Organization (WHO)

Description of Activities on AI

Following the WHO Resolution WHA 71.1 on Digital Health. WHO has created a new department of Digital health to harness the power and steer digital health and is developing a Global Strategy on Digital Health including the work on progressing the governance , capacity building and collaboration for digital health including AI for health.

In March 2019, WHO and ITU jointly published a brief commentary on the “WHO and ITU establish benchmarking process for artificial intelligence (AI) in health” in the premier medical journal, The Lancet. The commentary provides a description of the ongoing work on the Focus Group on Artificial Intelligence for Health (FG-AI4H) that was established in July 2018.

WHO as part of the management team and technical lead with ITU continues to operationalize the AI for health focus group activities. WHO has been closely coordinating the development of the benchmarking framework on AI for health which will deliver through a set of deliverables.


Under the AI for health workstream, WHO continued its convening power coordinating the Ethics of AI expert group. The group is currently progressing the development of WHO guidance on the ethics and governance of AI in health. Another focus group has also been set up to explore the regulatory implications of AI, an effort aiming for the development of key considerations and a framework to approach the regulations of AI-based health applications.

The increasing use of AI-powered digital solutions brings in added value to the traditional public health interventions and enables WHO to innovate and generate critical knowledge for technology and health community. This work is closely aligned to the draft Global Strategy on Digital health being developed in consultation with WHO Member States.

There are several potential AI for health implementation research and scale projects that WHO is implementing in certain regions and countries. For example, WHO is exploring possibility to establish a framework to optimize local impact of digital learning during public health emergencies. Leveraging machine learning, the organization aims to streamline the transcription and translation process, often human labour intensive, to support the implementation of multilingualism endorsed by United Nations and create positive impact on the health outcome of the vulnerable populations and marginalized communities. WHO is also developing guideline of using AI to detect cervical cancer and documenting 2 projects under implementation on Early detection of breast cancer and AI and Xrays and COVID19.

Moreover, WHO is convening experts and key stakeholders in the digital health ecosystem for an UNESCO conference on AI in later 2020, initiating a global dialogue reflecting different aspects of harness AI during the pandemic. WHO has provided the G20 with progress and guidance on AI for health as part of the G20 2020 digital health agenda. In collaboration with the iDB Digital Health Team, Collaborating Centers and AI experts we are designing a conceptual and operational framework for supporting Member States in the path of adopting AI in Public Health. WHO PAHO has conducting webinars and is creating a network of public health workers with specific interest on AI for Public Health. PAHO have already created an AI4PH knowledge network already established with 1500 people registered.

The main challenge in scaling and benchmarking AI for health solutions is the need for validated unbiased datasets and the regulations to allow for secured dataset to maximise the benefits of AI. These form the base of ethical and regulatory frame of challenges. The other challenge is the need for aligned resource investment to allow for scientific validation of research validation of the application and use of AI in health

WHO through its global strategy and its collaboration with ITU is working on addressing the ethical and regulatory challenges by developing frameworks for Member States and is providing technical support through its HQ Regions and countries. WHO has also widely recognized the value of AI in healthcare and is making efforts provide training to mid-career professionals in expanding their understanding on appropriate ethical and regulated use of AI in healthcare.

The WHO Digital Health and Innovations department is keen to partner with like minded UN agencies and other stakeholders to harness the power and steer digital health to contribute to the attainment of all people to the highest level of health through the GPW13 triple billion goals and SDG3

Related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)