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Monday, 13 November, 2000, 18:15 GMT
WHO bid to regulate health sites
There are more than 10,000 health websites
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched a bid to improve the quality of health websites.

The WHO has suggested a ".health" domain name be created as an address for internet sites offering health news and advice.

Under the plans, those sites using this domain would have to meet high standards in quality and ethics.

The ".health" domain would join the privileged list of other top level domains, such as ".com" and ".org".

If the plans go ahead, the WHO would be responsible for regulating the ".health" sites.

Reliable information

It would draw up policies and standards governing this sector and would decide which sites would be eligible to use the domain.

The WHO is responding to the needs of internet users

Dr Joan Dzenowagis, WHO
Dr Joan Dzenowagis, one of those behind the proposal, said the changes would help internet users.

"The WHO is responding to the needs of internet users looking for a reliable means of navigating their way through a mass of medical information that is often complex and sometimes contradictory," she said.

The WHO said more than 10,000 health-oriented sites existed on the internet and that it was not easy for users to be sure they had the right information.

LA meeting

The holder of the ".health" domain name would be charged with ensuring that participating sites adhere to quality and ethical standards.

Those standards would be set by the WHO in consultation with "governments, medical associations, consumer groups, the health industry and others", it said.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), which was created in 1998, said that new domain names had to be found to keep up with internet expansion.

Icann meets in Los Angeles this week to examine a number of proposals for new domains, including the one put forward by the WHO.

But Dr Paul Cundy, chairman of the British Medical Association's information technology committee said he was sceptical about the plans.

"I think the horse has bolted long ago," he said.

Dr Cundy added: "I am less concerned than I used to be. The message is getting across clearly to patients that there are a lot of dangerous things on the net.

"Consumer groups and the media in general have picked up this message and I think patients are developing a more mature attitude to the net. It is a sceptical attitude."

He added that regulating the internet in such a way could prove to be very costly and bureaucratic for the WHO.

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