I joined the ITU Regional Office at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. In responding to the pandemic and planning recovery, digital technology and connectivity have gained increasing recognition as an effective tool to tackle challenges in the health sector and ensure the continuation of essential social and economic functions across the globe. My journey at ITU started in the midst of a flurry of global and regional actions.
There is a growing consensus that COVID-19 recovery has to be led by digital technology and connectivity.
Digital technology enables telemedicine and e-health for quarantined patients without the risk of infection among doctors and nurses. In response to the shortage of medical equipment, 3D printing was found instrumental. E-learning and e-commerce provide platforms to continue education and business during the time of lockdown.
However, digital technology has been found effective where digital connectivity exists and COVID-19 has accentuated the digital divide more than ever. There are instances where information and services are not reaching remote and rural areas, low income families, people with disabilities and undocumented migrants and refugees. How to address the perennial problem of digital divide has become the urgent priority in the COVID-19 response and recovery across the globe.
ITU has a range of tools to assist governments and partners alike. Before I joined ITU, I worked for the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) where some of the ITU products were used as essential policy development tools. For example, ITU Transmission Map was used as a basis for regional and sub-regional policy dialogues and consensus building when the need for broadband networks and Internet traffic management were discussed. Such dialogues led to the formulation of co-deployment projects in Central Asia and initiatives to establish IXPs in the Pacific and Southeast Asia.
ITU has a range of tools to assist governments and partners alike.
Another example is the ITU telecom data which is the most comprehensive in geographical coverage and time series. At ESCAP, we used the ITU data to analyze the relationship between the development of artificial intelligence and broadband connectivity, digital divide and affordability and impact of universal access funds, among other research and analysis. The findings were helpful to engage other sectors, such as macroeconomics, transport, energy, disaster risk reduction and social development.
There is a growing consensus that COVID-19 recovery has to be led by digital technology and connectivity. It will not only ensure inclusive recovery but also advance digital transformation the governments set as development goals. The Transmission Maps, ITU telecom data, Emergency Telecommunications Guidelines, Regulation Toolkit, e-Health Strategy, ICT Development Index (IDI), Global Cybersecurity Index and other tools will be essential for the digital technology-led recovery, address the digital divide and build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic.