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WHO Collaborating Centre: One proud moment for the Institute

O'Brien Institute designated a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre, tasked with tracking disease, mortality on a global scale

O'Brien Institute for Public Health Scientific Director Dr. William Ghali, WHO delegate Dr. Bedirhan Ustun, O'Brien Institute member and WHO Collaborating Centre director Dr. Hude Quan, and University of Calgary Vice-President of Research Dr. John Reynolds.

(Riley Brandt, University of Calgary)

A new partnership will help researchers and physicians around the world better track and monitor disease and mortality. The University of Calgary's O'Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine has been officially designated a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Classification, Terminology and Standards. It becomes the third academic member of a WHO network that includes the Mayo Clinic and Stanford University.

The three institutions will collaborate and advise the WHO's International Classification of Diseases (ICD) standard, which shapes how health professionals, scientists and policy makers around the world communicate and share information for better health.

"Our international partnership with the WHO demonstrates our strength as a research institution," says John Reynolds, PhD, associate vice-president (research) University of Calgary. "The work being done at the collaborating centre will impact the health care of Canadians and others around the globe as it will provide real-world knowledge translation."

"The O'Brien Institute, and more broadly the University of Calgary, have a mandate through our Eyes High Strategy to produce societal impacts locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally. Our partnership with the WHO is thus of major strategic importance to the University, and a way in which we can contribute to the enhancement of global health information systems," says Dr Bill Ghali, Scientific Director of the O'Brien Institute for Public Health, who was a key member in key in bringing the Collaborating Centre to Calgary.

The ICD standard aims to develop and refine a common international language on diseases, enabling effective and accurate storage and retrieval of disease information by frontline health-care workers. It also aims to better inform policy makers on the spread, risk and prevention of disease, while providing a tool to track quality of care.

As part of this, the collaborating centre will also review existing classifications to ensure mortality rates from specific diseases such as Ebola all use a consistent code. This will help track mortality from epidemics.

"Canadians need better data for better decision making and better health care," says Dr. Hude Quan, director of the Calgary WHO Collaborating Centre. "Classification, terminology, standards of diseases and causes of death are critical for collecting meaningful and powerful big data. Without the standardized classification, we are collecting incomparable information internationally."

To mark the occasion, Dr. Bedirhan Üstün, WHO delegate and head of the WHO's International Classification of Diseases, will present the University of Calgary's O'Brien Institute with a WHO plaque.

"Creating international standards for better health information is a very challenging task," says Üstün. "Bringing together different users to share the same meaning for what a disease is, how you diagnose it and how you treat it is very complex. In addition, all this information has to be computerized in the 21st century so that both the computers and the humans understand it. The best guidance to achieve the international standards is to apply the latest and most accurate scientific information on health in these standards. If this is achieved then you can deliver better care for individuals and populations."

The partnership will have an initial commitment of five years, which will include testing a new version of the ICD for its usability, accuracy and reliability.

"The University of Calgary's O'Brien Institute is a center of excellence for the WHO because it not only shares this vision, but it has also been one of the world's pioneering institutions to implement it," says Üstün.

WHO collaborating centres are institutions such as research institutes, or parts of universities or academies designated by the director-general to carry out activities in support of the WHO's programs. There are over 700 WHO collaborating centres in over 80 countries working on projects dedicated to nursing, occupational health, communicable diseases, nutrition, mental health, chronic diseases and health technologies. The first WHO collaborating centre was designated in 1948.

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