The University of Calgary's O'Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine received an important designation from the World Health Organization on Thursday and will be part of an academic network to track and monitor disease and mortality around the world.

The institute was officially named as a Collaborating Centre for Classification, Terminology and Standards and becomes the third academic member of the group, along with the Mayo Clinic and Stanford University.

"Our international partnership with the WHO demonstrates our strength as a research institution," said John Reynolds, PhD, associate vice-president (research) University of Calgary. "The work being done at the collaborating centre will impact the health care of Canadians and others around the globe as it will provide real-world knowledge translation."

The network will work together to advise WHO's International Classification of Diseases (ICD) standard to help determine how health professionals, scientists and policy makers around the world communicate and share information.

The goal is to create a standard international language on diseases that would facilitate the storage and retrieval of that information by healthcare workers.

They also hope to use the data to better inform policy makers on the spread, risk and prevention of disease and to provide a tool to track quality of care.

The collaborating centre will also review existing classifications to ensure mortality rates from diseases, like Ebola, all use a consistent code. The codes will help track mortality from epidemics.

"Canadians need better data for better decision making and better health care," said Dr. Hude Quan, director of the Calgary WHO Collaborating Centre. "Classification, terminology, standards of diseases and causes of death are critical for collecting meaningful and powerful big data. Without the standardized classification, we are collecting incomparable information internationally."

"Creating international standards for better health information is a very challenging task," said Dr. Bedirhan Üstün, WHO delegate and head of the WHO's International Classification of Diseases. "Bringing together different users to share the same meaning for what a disease is, how you diagnose it and how you treat it is very complex. In addition, all this information has to be computerized in the 21st century so that both the computers and the humans understand it. The best guidance to achieve the international standards is to apply the latest and most accurate scientific information on health in these standards. If this is achieved then you can deliver better care for individuals and populations."

The initial commitment for the partnership is for five years and will include the testing of a new version of the ICD for its usability, accuracy and reliability.

The University of Calgary's O'Brien Institute will also receive a WHO plaque to mark the occasion.

WHO has over 700 collaborating centres in over 80 countries that are working on nursing, occupational health, communicable diseases, nutrition, mental health, chronic diseases and health technologies projects.