June 14, 2024
Digital technologies can improve equity and access to healthcare

“In a digital age, health workers should not have to carry a separate device for each disease or be required to fill out both paper and electronic records,” said WHO Director Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday.

He was speaking at WHO’s launch of the Global Initiative on Digital Health – where officials cut a ribbon at the virtual press conference marking the launch of a new network of that aims to accelerate a 2021 WHO Global Strategy on Digital Health

The initiative centers around the creation of a WHO managed network involving governments, donors, NGOs and private firms, which are invited to sign up as members to the collaboration and knowledge exchange.

Digitalization of health care solutions can help provide more equitable access to quality healthcare;  faster and more accurate diagnosis of patients, and better tracking of patients and their health conditions.

“Sitting in a community clinic, one person can get services through telemedicine from a renowned physician from the capital city,” remarked Meerjady Sabrina Flora, director general of Health Services in Bangladesh, speaking at the launch.

But current digital health systems also are fraught by gaps and overlaps that are “some of the main challenges we face,” said Dr Tedros.

‘Network of Networks’

“Our goals are to support, enhance and accelerate national and regional digital health information,” said Bianca Rouwenhorst of the Dutch Ministry of Health. The initiative is more of a portal, a “network of networks” facilitated by WHO than a specific action plan, she said.

Its four pillars ensure good communication, knowledge transfer and collaboration between entities. The goal is to “respond to the complex digital health ecosystem by aligning investments, strengthening the enabling environment and enhancing quality assured technical support.”

Four main pillars of the Global Initiative on Digital Health

In the network design, a new ‘Country Needs Tracker’ and the ‘Country Resource Portal’ will connect philanthropies and bilateral partners, creating a space for an exchange of products, services and knowledge addressing specific existing needs.

Other pillars focus more on the “how” of digitalisation, accelerating effective information and practice sharing, for instance, providing regularly updated tools for managing digital transformation.

According to its makers, the initiative has the potential to not only provide an information platform but also shift digitalisation projects from a focus on individual products to a more holistic, national infrastructure focus.

Global Strategy on Digital Health goals

“GIDH will leverage existing evidence, tools and learnings in digital health and focus efforts on creating new quality assurance building blocks when needed,” stated Derrick Muneene, Head of WHO’s Digital Capacity Building and Collaboration team, which will lead the network’s development.

Hopes are that the network will lead to a more detailed WHO agenda for enhancing modern technological advances used in health globally. The knowledge exchange, transparency, technical and financial support that can spur from DIGH implementation can mean a step forward in reaching the 2025 goals.

“A carefully planned digital health future should be one where systems speak to one another, reducing the burden on workers and the people they serve,” remarked Dr Tedros. The Initiative on Digital Health promises to bring it closer.

Image Credits: WHO.

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