WHO – The World Health Organization (WHO), in collaboration with partners including Interpol, has released two comprehensive reports addressing the evolving threats posed by cyber-attacks and disinformation in the healthcare sector. 

Other institutions that played a leading role in the reports published on January 26 include the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the UN Office of Counter-terrorism, the UN International Computing Centre (UNICC), the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, and the CyberPeace Institute. 

 The reports aimed to underscore the critical importance of heightened vigilance and collaborative action to safeguard global health security. 

The first report, titled “Examining the threat of cyber-attack on health care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” illuminates the clear-cut realities faced by health care systems worldwide amidst the onslaught of cyber-attacks.  

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals found themselves targeted by malicious actors, resulting in disruptions to essential health services and the compromise of sensitive patient data.  

With insights from experts across various agencies, including INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the report emphasizes the imperative of bolstering cybersecurity measures to protect patient safety and ensure the integrity of health care infrastructure.

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 “The report highlights how vulnerable patient safety is to cyber-attacks, and how much work we all have ahead to secure lives,” said Glen Prichard, Chief of Cybercrime and Anti-Money Laundering section at UNODC, highlighting the urgency of the matter. 

The second report, “Understanding disinformation in the context of public health emergencies: the case of COVID-19,” takes a look at the insidious spread of disinformation, particularly in the middle of a global health crisis. 

 Additionally, the report offers strategies to counter misinformation and promote factual information dissemination, through ways like advocating for digital literacy programs to collaborating with stakeholders across sectors, while presenting a multifaceted approach to combatting the proliferation of false narratives. 

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, underscored that there was much of gravity in the situation because hackers can now weaponize information, causing frustration to the healthcare sector.  

 “In an era where information can be weaponized, it is imperative that we equip ourselves with the tools and knowledge to discern truth from fiction. These reports serve as vital resources in our collective efforts to safeguard public health and build resilient health systems,” he said.  

The release of these reports marks a pivotal moment in the global health security landscape, given the trove of challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic that countries are grappling with alongside the looming specter of future health emergencies.   

WHO and its partners expressed confidence and revealed that they would stand united in their commitment to confronting emerging threats and ensuring the well-being of communities worldwide. 

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