WHO looking to implement backbone of Estonia's e-state

Estonia and World Health Organization  (WHO) flags.
Estonia and World Health Organization (WHO) flags. Source: Government Office.

If everything goes as planned, the World Health Organization (WHO) will implement the use of X-Road, the backbone of the Estonian e-state, which may become part of global data governance via the United Nations in the future, daily newspaper Postimees reported on Friday.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas and WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus discussed digital cooperation on Tuesday and said Estonia will start cooperation with the organization on digitizing the exchange of health data

Officials with knowledge of the subject described the plans to Postimees as everything but modest, wire service BNS wrote, which signals an opportunity for a global breakthrough for the principles of the e-state.

Marten Kaevats, digital affairs adviser to the Government Office of Estonia, told Postimees: "When we think about the export of the digital state or opportunities to share Estonia's know-how, a bigger project than this can not even be imagined."

Kaevats described it as an opportunity of the century.

"When we talk about potentially rethinking the whole planet's data exchange and the legal framework around it, this clearly is a lifelong project," he said.

A number of Estonian and Finnish software companies have established a consortium to develop a data governance system based on the principle of distributed data exchange. Kaevats named these companies as Guardtime, Nortal, Helmes, Gofore, Roxnet, the E-Governance Academy and several others from Estonia and Finland as being connected with the project. 

Kaevats said everything started a year ago when he visited one of the world's biggest conferences on humanistic artificial intelligence in Geneva. There, he established contact with the WHO's new science chief Soumya Swaminathan, and since then Kaevats has been appointed a member of the WHO's digital health technology advisory group, a high-level expert group that advises the WHO and its director general on matters of digital health.

"To put it simply, I took the approach from the start that I am not a health expert, [but] I'm going to take the X-Road there," Kaevats said, explaining the current problem internationally as plans being developed individually by countries without a vision for all.  

"What we are putting forward is a comprehensive plan for digital data governance with corresponding tools and methods. At the same time, what we are bringing there is not technology, but first and foremost principles of data governance. We are trying to show that it is possible to also build up a sustainable international organization with a distributed data structure such as our X-Road," Kaevats said.

Kaevats said he counts it as one of their minor victories that in October capability for the interoperability of systems was not mentioned in the WHO's plans for a digital strategy, it has become one of its keywords now.

While the project currently under work is a test project, for the visionaries it is just something to prove that an approach like this works. Once a breakthrough has happened when it comes to the principle of distributed use of data, the next logical step would be to start developing a distributed architecture solution for the UN machine, Postimees said.

What is the X-Road?

X-Road® software based solution X-tee is the backbone of the Estonian e-state. It allows the nation's various public and private sector e-service information systems to link up and function in harmony. It is used by more than 1,000 organizations and enterprises every day.

Estonia's e-solution environment includes a full range of services for the general public, and since each service has its own information system they all use X-tee to communicate. To ensure secure transfers, all outgoing data is digitally signed and encrypted, and all incoming data is authenticated and logged.

It connects different information systems that may include a variety of services. It has developed into a tool that can also write to multiple information systems, transmit large data sets and perform searches across several information systems simultaneously.

The service has also been implemented in Finland, Kyrgyzstan, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Japan and other countries. Similar technology has also been implemented in Ukraine and Namibia.

Read more here.

Overview of Estonia's X-Road approach. Source: (e-estonia.com)


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Editor: Helen Wright

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