Around 400 million people globally cannot access essential healthcare services, particularly in Africa, South Asia and the Pacific. Digital Health is rapidly advancing in both developed and developing countries and provides an important foundation on which health systems can be strengthened, enabling greater access to better healthcare services.
Recently, the Global Digital Health Network held the 5th Annual Global Digital Health Forum in Washington, DC, bringing together digital health technologists, researchers, donors, government stakeholders and implementers to discuss Global Digital Health. The theme - Shared Language for Digital Health - drew attention to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Classification of Digital Health Interventions, which provides mutually agreed-upon terminology for how digital and mobile technologies should be used to support various actors in health systems.
Palladium staff share key takeaways from the Forum on several trends in the Digital Health space:
- Donor coordination in Digital Health is starting to take shape. Donor priorities are increasingly strategic and principled to maximize investment impact. Key donors have adopted the nine Principles for Digital Development, which help integrate best practices into programs using digital tools. They have also agreed to support Global Goods: Digital Health tools that have been deployed at scale, are adaptable to different countries, and use free and open source software. Additionally, they are funded by multiple sources and are designed to be interoperable with other systems.
- Robust Communities of Practice (CoPs) are emerging to support widely-used Digital Health tools, as well as thematic areas within Digital Health. Donors increasingly see the critical role that CoPs play in fostering the advancement and sustainability of Digital Health interventions. Furthermore, it is important for practitioners at government ministries and implementing organizations to participate in relevant CoPs in order to stay abreast of developments and participate in dialogue and decisions that will determine its future priorities.
- Government leadership of projects continues to be a key factor in the sustainability of donor investments, and therefore, implementations should be aligned to government priorities at all times. Strengthening governance structures as part of local-capacity building is required to sustain country-led health information systems. Furthermore, the cross-cutting nature of Digital Health often requires that governance structures include not only ministries of health, but other ministries and offices such as finance and information technology.
Palladium is a member of the advisory board the Global Digital Health Network and had six staff in attendance at this year’s Forum, including three who presented:
- Rose Nzoyka (Chief of Party, Health Information Governance and Data Analytics (HIGDA)) presented on the implementation of Geographic Implementation Systems (GIS) in Kenya. The USAID-funded HIGDA project uses GIS to identify hotspots for HIV clients who are not yet linked to care, as well as the nearest health facility for these clients. In doing so, it is also strengthening local capacity in the production and use of data; creating a culture of data use amongst local organizations; and integrating systems to enable information sharing among systems to eliminate duplication of data.
- Damola Olajide (Technical Team Lead, West Africa Health Informatics Team (WAHIT)) presented on building regional ICT capacity in West Africa. WAHIT is a USAID-funded program that Palladium implements to train health informatics professionals to support and maintain digital infrastructure. During the West African Ebola crisis, disconnected and siloed information systems contributed to the poor quality of data and negatively impacted response efforts. WAHIT has now trained over 150 software developers and provided on-demand technical assistance and capacity building to Ministries of Health. The program has also cultivated a community of practice that supports inter- and intra-country sharing of knowledge and skills to improve and sustain health information systems in West Africa.
- Allison Connolly (Senior Technical Advisor, Data Informatics and Analytical Solutions) moderated a session on Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR), drawing on her experience in improving community and facility-based surveillance, especially during the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. This session included case studies on the adoption of digital platforms for routine surveillance in two countries, as well as for surveillance during the Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo which began last year.