Access to reliable healthcare information is (or should be) a human right: Do you agree or disagree? (14)

16 June, 2023

Dear Bernard and all,

You write: "I don’t understand the discussion about the access to reliable information. Today, through the internet, everybody has access to reliable information, as well as to misinformation. This is not a matter of human rights and the very notion of “human rights” must be limited to what it usually currently includes."

Thank you for your comment. I invite others to comment, and offer the following points.

1. A 2021 UN report forund that 'Nearly 3bn people, or 37% of global population, have never been online despite rise in use during pandemic'. The number is clearly less in 2023, but we are still probably talking about billions without access, and even more without regular, everyday access.

2. Twenty years ago, some people believed that the internet would solve all information problems. But this is clearly not the case. Even for those who may have access, this does not mean they can obtain reliable information in a format and level that is meaningful to them. Neither can they always differentiate reliable information from misinformation.

3. Access to reliable healthcare information is unequivocally a determinant of the right to health. Connectivity is only one approach to meeting information needs, and it brings its own issues.

4. At current rates of technological development, it seems likely that connectivity will, eventually, be near ubiquitous. If AI can be harnessed while avoiding its very serious pitfalls, I am optimistic that it will greatly help to meet people's information needs. However, there is no such thing as a single solution to information needs - not the internet, not even AI. A systems-thinking approach is needed to better understand and strengthen the global evidence ecosystem as a whole.

Many thanks, Neil

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: