UNESCO Chair for distance learning – 2005

In September 2005, UNESCO awarded a Chair for distance learning in Gastroenterology to the OESO Foundation in the framework of the Service d'Informatique Médicale (SIM) at the University of Geneva.
This UNESCO Chair can be considered as the driving force behind a pioneering project which connects a large number of Universities and Centers across the world for the purpose of medical teaching and healthcare:

  • Organization of a worldwide inter-University network in the field of Gastroenterology, benefiting from OESO's reputation as a world reference. 
  • Conception of web-based educational programs to be proposed to partner-Universities in the world.
  • Assistance with diagnosis and therapeutic strategy, by access to experts in all specialties.
  • Development of digital medical content adapted to local needs.
  • Joint collaborative studies.


UNESCO Chair in Telemedicine

for multidisciplinary distance learning and creation of evolutional content at the UNIVERSITY OF GENEVA (Switzerland)


1. Title:

UNESCO Chair in Telemedicine for multi-disciplinary distance learning and creation of evolutional content in the framework of the UNITWIN networks (University twinning and networking) of UNESCO.

2. Starting date: 2005

3. Domains and disciplines concerned:

  • Training for students of medicine, physicians, and other health professionals by distance learning.
  • Creation of high level digitized medical, evolutional, collaborative content, based on method developed by the OESO Foundation in the field of Gastroenterology.
  • Networking of distance learning abilities and content creation.

4. Name of Institution: University of Geneva (Switzerland)

5. Faculty directly concerned: Faculty of Medicine

7. Project leader / contact person:

Professor Robert Giuli, MD, FACS
Professor of Surgery

Professor Antoine Geissbuhler
Head of the department of Radiology and Medical Informatics

8. Full contact address / telephone / fax:

Department of Medical Informatics
24, rue Micheli-du-Crest
1211 Genève 14
T + 41 22 372 62 01 or + 41 22 372 62 01

F + 41 22 372 62 55


B. DESCRIPTION: UNESCO Chair and network

The end objective behind the creation of the Chair is to make an effective contribution to healthcare education and to the organization of healthcare systems in various countries round the world by a coordinating procedure aimed at generating efficiency as well as equity.
This UNESCO Chair represents a prestigious and concrete fulfillment of the aims of the OESO Foundation.

1. Domains or disciplines:

Traditional teaching methods such as lectures and publications are not well suited to either the type of knowledge that has to be disseminated or to the characteristics of the various global populations concerned.

The logic behind the application of Telematics to Healthcare, Continuing Medical Education and exchanges between medical colleagues and students is the benefit derived from the spreading of specific knowledge and know-how by means of computer-aided learning tools designed for medical applications.

These objectives will conform to the two guiding principles which have emerged in all countries for the improvement of medical practice and the reduction of health costs:

  • the need for Continuing Medical Education for all those concerned with healthcare,
  • the need for a system of accreditation to guarantee the quality of benefits, thus requiring the creation of new structures to provide this training.

Indeed, communication has become an essential element in teaching, as well as in the quality of the diagnostic or therapeutic procedure, which requires a combination of multiple skills drawn from ever more specialized spheres.

Distance learning and Telemedicine would thus appear to be necessary components of the healthcare system, satisfying the requirements well recognized today for a multi-disciplinary cooperation.

The availability of multimedia technologies, and specifically the availability of on-line multimedia (image-oriented, fixed and video) information systems open a large area of applications for teaching students and medical utilization. On-line medical systems appear to be a great opportunity for the medical domain to lighten the task of students, general practitioners and specialists facing the huge and daily increasing amount of information they have to cope with.

If medical information had, in the past years, a relatively small turnover, nowadays this turnover is accelerating, and the development of the system must be evolutionary, according to the number of connected participants and the size of the communication network. It will also be heavily based on the regular integration of all available information technology products and tools.

The main value of this network will rely on its ability to evolve according to the results of research and the evolution of medical practice, and the technical infrastructure must be able to cope with a large increase of services without loss of performance.

The implementation of such tools for the training of health professionals implies the command of various skills:

  • the concepts and the tools for distance learning, be it pre-graduate training, post-graduate, or continuing distance learning,
  • the capacity to conceive, construct and maintain didactic medical content in digital form,
  • implementation of cooperative networks.

The Chair allow to assemble in the same Institution various types of expertise in order to implement:

  • a network for the collaborative creation of high level medical content and its dissemination by distance learning,
  • a structured training program aiming to develop these skills, especially in Institutions of medical training in developing countries.
  • This Chair is backed by the expertise, the international renown, and the network of corresponding members of OESO (World Organization for Specialized Studies on Diseases of the Esophagus) and of the OESO Foundation in the field of collaborative, multi-disciplinary creation of high level medical content applied to diseases of the digestive tract.OESO today comprises over 11,000 corresponding members from 85 countries.
  • Its achievements have been recognized in the Resolution DR 44 approved at the time of the 30th session of the General Conference, referring in particular to the debate entitled “Towards the University of the Future”, organized at the UNESCO Headquarters at the time of the 5th World Congress of OESO (1996).
  • This Chair profits from the know-how developed at the University of Geneva in its Center for e-learning (CeL), the distance learning medical projects in the framework of Universanté and RAFT (Réseau en Afrique Francophone pour la Télémédecine – Network for Tele-medicine in French-speaking Africa), as well as post-graduate teaching in medical informatics proposed by the Department of Medical Informatics and the Faculty of Medicine of Geneva.

2. Short and long-term objectives

  • To assemble, on an Internet portal, a network of students, as well as researchers and clinicians from all countries of the world, belonging to all disciplines relative to the field of Health in general and of gastroenterology in particular, to promote an integrated system of learning, training, and information benefiting from the technical possibilities today offered by Telemedicine.
  • To allow access to a multimedia base of medical data made up of validated publications of the members of the network.
  • To contribute to the organization of courses for students as well as for Continuing Medical Education.
  • To contribute to the setting up and coordination of multi-centric, multidisciplinary studies oriented towards fundamental, as well as clinical research.
  • To allow access by Internet to an international, multidisciplinary network of excellence for Health information, diagnosis or assistance in treatment.
  • To cooperate with Universities and Scientific Societies of the member States of UNESCO in the conception of educational programs, undertaking of cooperative studies, or the setting up of networks of second opinion.
  • To facilitate collaboration between high-level, internationally recognized researchers and teaching staff of the University of Geneva and other Institutions in OESO.
  • To develop a post-graduate teaching program in the domain of distance learning and the creation of digitized medical content.

3. Type of activity

  • Conception of web-based educational programs, to be proposed to partner- Universities in the world.
  • Internet access to professional multimedia databases built on the work of the members of the contributing Scientific Societies.Initially, it is comprised of the OESO database, which includes elements of an evolutionary encyclopedia on esophagology, containing up until now 4847 pages divided into 4 books. Each of these books offers the contribution of some of the world's most renowned specialists in each discipline.
    The database will be permanently enriched.
  • Active contribution to Continuing Medical Education, benefiting from the creation of new structures to provide this training, with a system of accreditation to guarantee its high level.
    Eighteen disciplines will be represented: Health Economics – Epidemiology – Biochemistry – Molecular Biology – Pharmacology – Physiology – Gastroenterology – Endoscopy – Pediatrics – Anesthesiology – Surgery – Laparoscopic surgery – Nutrition – Oncology – Otolaryngology – Pathology – Radiology – Functional Investigations.
  • Organization of post-graduate courses and training workshops by means of grants for health professionals in a program to master new technologies for medical teaching and the creation of medical content.
  • Peer-group discussion forums:
  1. Real time still images using PC technology: the images exchanged are of much higher quality than in direct videoconferencing and can be processed in ways that enrich discussion.
  2. Real time images using video conferencing, more rarely justified, and more usually used, when available, for case commentaries.
  3. Scheduled exchanges made on a regular basis, coordinated by the Chair.The meetings will consist of several specialists from different countries focusing on a single file, providing a given patient with an exceptionally high level of security in the therapeutic decision made by the physician.
    These exchanges can be followed, and possibly discussed at each site during regular meetings of physicians and/or students invited to attend.
  4. Each meeting will be video-recorded, with a summary of the exchanges and a video synthesis with all useful data, points of view expressed and conclusions drawn by the group, adapted to the various potential user profiles (students, medical practitioners, specialists).
    All recorded cases will be included in the database and will thus become accessible on the web in an extremely efficient format.
  • Participation in joint scientific studies undertaken under the auspices of Faculties and Universities participating in the network, thus benefiting from a wide increase in the potential number of contributors to any ongoing work, thanks to the dissemination of appropriate forms on the internet.


4. Expected results

The Unesco chair proposes, in cooperation with the Universities contributing to the network and the OESO Foundation, a number of privileged benefits:

  • Organization of a worldwide network in the field of health and, initially, in the domain of Gastroenterology, benefiting from the reputation as a worldwide reference OESO has acquired in this area.
  • Access to updated information and Continuing Medical Education benefiting from the most recent multimedia technologies.
  • Assistance with diagnosis and therapeutic strategy, by anonymous access to experts of all specialties, accredited by recognized universities.
  • Multicenter expertise for the practice of medical distance learning.
  • Means of developing, in a collaborative and decentralized way, digital medical content adapted to local needs.


5. Targeted users

  • Wide audience of students belonging to the international inter-University network set up by the Unesco Chair.
  • General practitioners and specialists in one of the 18 disciplines represented.
  • Private Centers of research and/or treatment wishing to make use of the Tele-expertise network or the program of Continuing Medical Education.
  • All Universities or Scientific Societies pf the member States of UNESCO interested in affiliation to a network of this type for the purpose of their own respective training program.


6. Other relevant information

This project will manage the rapidly evolving, novel technical resources necessary for the network to function.

The established scientific infrastructure existing in OESO and in the OESO Foundation can be considered as ideal for co-operation with various other Universities and Societies, thus opening up the possibility of very wide ranging shared initiatives.

English and French will be the reference languages used in the Chair. However, multi-linguality will be preserved on the network, in particular with the utilization of new tools to search on the web, enabling to answer a query after translation into the language of the user. (Health on the Net Foundation)

The expected functional and economic gain of the program is substantial if one considers the permanent connection of Centers at negligible cost, along with the possibility of sharing thoughts at a distance with a chosen interlocutor.

The setting up of Virtual Workgroups linking Universities and medical communities from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres would satisfy one of the objectives of UNESCO.

Within such a context, the UNESCO Chair set up in Geneva in the framework of the OESO Foundation can be considered of great importance, and the driving force behind a pioneering experience, capable of connecting at the outset a large number of Centers across regions of the world, benefiting from the advanced methods available today through modern information highways for the purpose of medical teaching and Healthcare.