The World Health Organisation is to start work with 17 universities across the world to bring e-health to developing countries, it has been announced.

Universitas 21 (U21), a group of universities that include Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Nottingham as well as institutions in Sweden, Australia, Canada and South Korea, has set up a working party with the WHO to decide on collaboration opportunities to bring cheap technology to poorer countries.

Yunkap Kwankam, coordinator of the Global Observatory for e-Health (GOe) at the WHO, said that healthcare IT shouldn’t just be confined to the developed world: "There is a tendency to believe that systems for e-health are tools solely for the industrialised world. This is not true, as is evident from the large number of e-health projects in developing countries."

The GOe was set up this year by the WHO to provide information to countries about how to develop effective e-health strategies and what benefits and challenges healthcare technology can bring.

As well as raising awareness of e-health technology among governments and the private sector, it aims to be a repository of information and evidence about e-health technologies. U21 have now entered into discussions with GOe and will decide over the next twelve months how they best can work together.

U21 and the WHO will focus on the use of technology to provide care in remote areas where there are no physical healthcare facilities or a shortage of healthcare personnel. It will also look at ways of exchanging e-health staff and students between countries and will contribute to debate about international standards for health information.

Kendall Ho, head of the new U21 committee for e-health and a representative of the University of British Columbia, said new technology will help improve health by better communication. "E-health will completely change healthcare. It is one of the fastest-growing fields of healthcare today, giving undreamt of opportunities for us to spread our medical knowledge to the whole world."

WHO reports say that seven million sick children die worldwide die each year due to lack of knowledge and access to existing treatment. Ho added that e-health would be "instrumental" in bringing this figure down.