Knowledge management and health

WHO knowledge management strategy


The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the profound challenges currently facing global public health on many fronts, particularly the fragile health of populations in developing countries. The gap in health between the haves and have-nots, both within and between countries, grows ever wider. There is a deepening crisis in access to basic health services in many countries. This in turn is seriously aggravated by poverty, the continuing HIV/AIDS pandemic, and other problems. In the face of these and numerous other complexities, governments are struggling to build and sustain their health systems.

Yet WHO believes this is also a time when real benefits can be achieved. Most of the burden of premature death and illness among the poor is due to problems for which solutions are known and prevention is possible, even as innovation continues. With unprecedented amounts of resources now being allocated to international health aid, new technologies, and to the improvement of health services, the global health community has a rare opportunity to foster health equity in countries most in need.

A substantial obstacle to exploiting this opportunity fully is the "know-do gap" – the gap between what is already known, and what is actually done in practice - at the individual, institutional and population levels. This gap contributes to huge health inequalities, such as unacceptably high levels of child and maternal mortality, the high incidence of infectious diseases, and the spread of chronic conditions across the developing world.Bridging this gap can contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Towards this end, a new balance in the creation, sharing, translation and application of knowledge is required.

WHO is a knowledge-based organization. The exchange and dissemination of information about health conditions and the maintenance of health has been a central activity of the Organization since its founding. In more than half a century since then, there have been revolutionary advances and new perspectives in society, technology and knowledge affecting all facets of the life sciences, individual and collective health, the environment, education, and in the means to communicate information. There has been both an exponential growth and specialization of knowledge about health issues. New stakeholders have emerged, and health issues have become increasingly connected to socioeconomic concerns as well as to individuals’ everyday lives. More recently we have witnessed the advent of new information and communication technologies, enabling the widest possible dissemination of health concerns and networked solutions.

These developments are driving the growth of knowledge management (KM). WHO considers KM to be the dual challenge of, first, managing information and processes and, second, managing people and their environment so that knowledge is created, shared and applied more systematically and effectively. WHO seeks to apply knowledge management to support the work of the Organization and its Member States in bridging the "know-do gap", particularly within country health systems.

Mainstreaming KM

A unified approach to KM processes is critical to ensure that knowledge is considered a common strategic asset and is broadly accessible. Implementing technical services and managing the complexity of global operations to achieve WHO goals depend on effective information and knowledge management, and the technologies to support them (table 1). Trends in this area have made it an opportune time to mainstream KM in global health. The value of knowledge management is gaining broader recognition and the tools are improving. New opportunities exist to apply KM and deliver added value for WHO and countries. Not least, WHO must respond to the changing expectations and ever-increasing capabilities of its stakeholders.