Tech’s power comes with great responsibility in fighting disease

Tech’s power comes with great responsibility in fighting disease

Digital tools have proved invaluable to health officials, but have led to an unprecedented sharing of personal data

When World Health Organization officials decided last year to convene a group to advise them on digital health, they were testing the limits of a longstanding taboo just weeks ahead of an impending catastrophe.

The UN agency usually maintains its distance from commercial organisations — from food companies to the pharmaceutical industry — to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.

Yet, alongside representatives of governments and non-profit groups, the 20-strong digital health technical advisory group includes executives from two of China’s largest tech companies, Baidu and Tencent, and is chaired by Steve Davis, a former McKinsey consultant.

The identities of those around the table reflect how far technology has already been intermingling with and disrupting traditional approaches to tackling health and disease. These trends have accelerated since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, with the digital world both boosting the virus — through an “infodemic” of fake medical news — and helping to mitigate its spread.