Called the 'Health Academy', the e-learning technology is a novel approach to public health. It aims to demystify medical and public health practices and to make specialist knowledge available to everyone through Internet-based technology and using accessible language that everyone can understand.
Two pilot studies spanning the 2003-2004 academic year have just begun, one in Egypt and the other in Jordan. The studies are directed at 12 to 18 year old students in 20 schools in Egypt and 21 schools in Jordan. The Health Academy may then be expanded in the two pioneer countries as well as in other regions of the world.
Dr Lee Jong-wook, Director-General of WHO, said: "It is more than just education; it is a means to influence attitudes and behaviour towards a healthier lifestyle, which in turn may help reduce gaps between prosperity and poverty and health and sickness."
The e-learning technology will allow the learner to build on existing knowledge and develop critical thinking and better concentration capacities, according to WHO. Once the Health Academy is established, the equipment and courses provided can be used in the evenings by parents and the general public under the guidance of the mentors.
It may also be extended to community Internet centres and other points of access, helping to promote health development in societies with access to information technology.
John Morgridge, chairman of Cisco Systems, which has designed the technology, said: "Using Internet technology to advance learning has global reach and is a timely and stimulating way to deliver important curriculum to developed and developing countries around the globe."
The burden of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and obesity, is rapidly increasing worldwide. In 2001, chronic diseases contributed approximately 59 per cent of the 56.5 million total reported deaths in the world and 46 per cent of the global burden of disease, according to an expert report commissioned by the WHO.