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WHO Updates International Disease Listing

Medical professionals from around the world are working together under the World Health Organization to update the International Classification of Diseases. On an Internet platform launched on Monday, anyone can propose, with evidence, new disease classifications in the first global effort since 1989. As Yuriko Nagano reports, the list aims to become the medical version of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.

The World Health Organization hopes to make the global standard for medical and health statistics available not just to medical professionals but to the general public for the first time. The International Classification of Diseases, or ICD as it's called, is a list that includes every medical condition from head injuries and cancer to disabilities.

The list was started in the 19th century and is used to identify a patient's condition by doctors and hospitals around the world. It was last updated about two decades ago, although some countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States have been revising the standard on their own.

The WHO says countries will integrate their data over the Internet in the new version named ICD-10 Plus.

Japan's contribution includes hosting the list revision meeting this week in Tokyo.

Dr. Segolene Ayme of ICD's revision steering group says the world has 7,000 rare diseases already, which are severe and often fatal. Together rare diseases affect three percent of the world's total population and account for 25 percent of hospitalizations in pediatric hospitals of developed countries.

"In the field of rare diseases we have 200 new diseases described every year," said Ayme. "So you know we have to keep up with this new information because if not these patients are not visible. They are ignored."

The list of diseases that comes after this one, called ICD-11, will use contributions from many authors. This will allow WHO to maintain the medical version of Wikipedia - a Web site that offers encyclopedia-like information on the Internet.

WHO says this will allow contributors to have a say, for example, in how homosexuality is defined. It has been defined as a "disease" since 1989 due to external pressure but now ordinary consumers can debate and exchange their viewpoint with doctors and clinicians and possibly open up new classifications.

The WHO says that ICD updates are important because government policies and health services are designed around them. Health insurance companies make decisions about costs of treatment based on the ICD standard.

Experts say future revisions should become much easier once an electronic version is in place.

WHO says the next hurdle is how to make the list accessible to third world countries. The last version was used in about 110 countries, but undeveloped countries, often those that need the list the most, have used it least.