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19 Dec 2011

Novartis Foundation symposium debates new media

The rise of new media has sparked a real knowledge revolution – this is the conclusion of the annual symposium of the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development (NFSD), attended by around 500 participants on 2 December 2011, on the topic of "New media: drivers of democratization and development?"

Joseph Jimenez, CEO of Novartis, explained in his opening address: "I believe that the rapid adoption of technology in the emerging world provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to leverage that power to significantly and rapidly improve access to quality healthcare. Novartis wants to play a leading role in this process and work closely with governments, international organizations, NGOs and industry in finding, developing and implementing innovative solutions to reach patients in need."

"Witnessing the most rapid process of transformation"

June Arunga, lawyer and entrepreneur, said: "For Africa the mobile phone is about as earth-shattering as the invention of the wheel." The mobile phone, she says, is an office, a communications center, a motivational tool, a life-saver and a warning system all in one. On top of this, smartphones and GPS have made it possible to generate data for wherever there is a lack of land rights. A mobile phone can even help, she says, when it comes to determining the authenticity of a medicine in remote areas.

For Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), information and communication technologies (ICTs) are the vital driving force behind progress everywhere, poor countries included: "We are witnessing the most rapid process of transformation in human history. And I believe we have at our disposal by far the best opportunity ever for driving social and economic development. Let us seize this opportunity with both hands!"

"Aid in need of radical reform"

Suvi Lindén, former Finnish minister and the International Telecommunication Union’s Special Envoy to the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, emphasized the importance of expanding the broadband network and of coordinating all e-health initiatives via Health Agora. In addition, she called for a digital society in which health-related information can be exchanged interactively.

Sir Richard Feachem, Director of the Global Health Group, spoke in his analysis in favor of a radical reform of aid. The revolution in telecommunications technology, he says, must be followed by a revolution in development cooperation – and this requires more equity and less debt, a better mixture of public and private investment, more public-private partnerships and a reduction in aid to specific countries in favor of promoting global public goods such as new sciences and technologies.

Alexander Schulze, Access Program and Research Manager at the NFSD, reported on his fieldwork in Mali and Tanzania aimed at improving access to primary healthcare in rural areas. He praised IT tools that made work considerably easier and safer and facilitated the rapid comparison of data at the regional and national levels. However, the tasks of valuation, budgeting, planning and quality evaluation, he says, still fall to the individual.

"This is a real revolution"

For the online media expert Zahi Alawi and the journalist Astrid Frefel, who lives in Egypt, new media such as Facebook, Twitter and mobile phones may not have been the trigger but undoubtedly had a catalytic effect in the latest Arab uprisings. The "digital revolutions", they said, had first enabled the people of Tunisia and Egypt in particular to exercise the freedom of speech denied them for decades by their respective regimes. Here, new media were “the drivers behind the process of democratization”, and it remains to be seen whether they will also contribute to its ongoing development.

Klaus M. Leisinger, President and Managing Director of the Novartis Foundation, is already seeing a "fundamental transformation of the way we live" – thanks to new media. It is crucial, he says, that nobody is excluded from the new "global knowledge society" we are building. He went on to say that access to modern information and communication technology helped to strengthen relationships and mutual understanding, stating in conclusion that "This is a real revolution: it will transform our world. And I firmly believe that new media will also revolutionize healthcare throughout the world."

Watch the highlights video of the symposium.

Read the detailed report in the NFSD newsletter.

Learn more about the speakers and watch the webcast.

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