Former Estonian President encourages incorporated ‘pan-Arab digitalisation project’ for healthcare services
By Hatem Hussein
SHARJAH, 27th September, 2021 – The Arab world needs to think seriously about creating an incorporated “digitalisation project,” especially when it comes to healthcare services, according to the former President of Estonia.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who served from 2006-2016 as the fourth President of what is considered one of the most tech-savvy countries in the world, told Emirates News Agency (WAM) on the sidelines of the 10th International Government Communication Forum which concludes in Sharjah Monday, that digital cooperation between countries has never been more needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It only requires political will,” he said.
“I heard a speech by the Secretary-General of the Arab League saying we need to digitise.
I said, ‘Yes this is what you need – But you need to think big and make it a pan-Arab digitalisation project where it works.
“Every country has its own ID and system, but if you want to foster cooperation in areas such as healthcare, which is the most important, you can create a much greater societal cohesion if your services are not strictly tied to your country,” he added.
“A country can extend its influence dramatically by having interoperable services that can be used by others,” Ilves emphasised.
“For example, Estonia is a small country like the UAE, but we have managed to extend our influence dramatically by having services that can be interoperable and used by others.
This, he continued, should be easy to achieve in the Arab world from Morocco to Oman.
“While every country would have its own system, you need to make them interoperable.
So, if an Omani comes to the UAE and needs a prescription, they should just call a doctor in Oman then get their medicine here.
Or if you are in Sharjah and go to Morocco and you get sick, so all you need to do is to authorise a doctor to read your medical record in Sharjah digitally.
This should work smoothly in the entire Arab world.
He said some countries “have more than 40 apps,” but they don’t talk to other countries for cooperation.
“They need to come up with interoperability.
These apps must be designed in a way they should be interoperable.
According to the first Digital Life Abroad Report, which was issued in 2019 by the biggest online expatriate network, InterNations, Estonia had been ranked the best country to live a connected life.
The report examined the digital performance of 68 countries.
“There are only three things that you cannot do virtually in Estonia: to get married, to get divorced and to sell physical property.
Anything else you can do online!” the former President explained.
Speaking about the digital transformation in his country, Ilves, 67, said, “The Internet enabled my country to make huge advances and to leap ahead of the countries that were in the past far ahead of us.
They are now behind us.
We now are among the most advanced countries, while 30 years ago we were one of the most backward and primitive nations in the world.
However, despite the pros, he noted the dark side of the Internet.
“On the other side, the Internet has been instrumentalised to do a lot of harm starting from conspiracy theories, propaganda, [saying] vaccines are bad, disinformation and lies about governments coming from abroad.
All these things are negative.
“Such propaganda and conspiracy theories did not work before the Internet because there were not too many people who could see them, while today you do.
So, you have huge improvements in the quality of life and public services, but there are also new threats,” he continued.
Elaborating on how countries can go next after having a developed digital infrastructure, Hendrick said, “What was important in the second half of the 20th century was the development of basic and large transport infrastructure.
The huge development of infrastructure, including transport, travel, etc.
, has made this region transform completely in the 20th century.
“However, it’s not only about having the Internet.
Unfortunately, some public services are highly undeveloped.
That’s why governments need to move on.
“I see this problem even in Europe where some countries are developed, but some are not.
I want to be able to enjoy the services available in my country all over the world.
If I get sick, the doctor should have a digital prescription for me that would work everywhere in Europe.
Talking about how government communication can work more efficiently after the COVID-19 pandemic, the former President of Estonia explained, “They need to monitor what is being said.
They need to monitor what their people are watching.
If Facebook is promoting conspiracy theories, they can speak to Facebook, saying, ‘Look guys, this is a conspiracy theory, please remove this as it is harming our population.
“When it comes to big countries, they [Facebook] listen, but they do not listen so often to small countries.
However, you need to make noise.
“For example, when the governments in the US and UK told Facebook that they are spreading misinformation, Facebook listened and stopped promoting false information.
You need to engage with them and monitor.
You need to tell them, ‘Guys look what you’re putting in the air is causing damage.