Round Table: The digital transformation for health - How can we unlock its full potential on the road to UHC and the SDGs?

20. Oktober 2022 I  Neues aus dem Hub  I Von : Anna-Lena Hasselder

The Global Health Hub Germany and the Joep Lange Institute co-hosted a round table as a side-event at the WHS 2022, sparking an exchange about what is needed for digital transformation of health. 

Taking up the important topic of digital transformation in and for health services, the Global Health Hub Germany and the Joep Lange Institute organized a discussion with globally leading experts, investors and selected non-governmental stakeholders. The objective was to jointly unpack where we globally stand in the digital transformation for health and why digital health is not yet another international topic, but a true game changer on the road to Universal Health Coverage and the SDGs.  

Why do we need a digital transformation for health? 

The use of digital health technologies has increased rapidly, with the Covid-19 pandemic being a driver of this development. For countries with relatively weaker health systems, health technologies are said to promise a quantum leap forward towards Universal Health Coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals in their 2030 timeframe. At the same time, the sustainable introduction and scaling of digital technologies in the health sector is complex, coming along with challenges including governance and data security, human and infrastructural capacity, digital divides, and insufficient inclusion of relevant communities. To do this right and with foresight, a multistakeholder approach, coordination, and additional investment is needed. While in all countries, regardless of their income level, the Government needs to lead the investment, international funding can have an important catalyzing effect. To demonstrate to governments and international investors that increased and coordinated investments can dramatically accelerate progress in achieving UHC, a global coalition of partners, led by Transform Health have developed a Conceptual Framework for the digital transformation of health systems in LMICs, that was launched on the 18 October 2022 at the World Health Summit. One day before the launch, we convened funders like the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, representatives of ministries from France, Finland and Sweden, the Fondation Botnar, Wellcome Trust, and Patrick J. McGovern Foundation with other stakeholders such as WHO, I-DAIR, PATH, UNITE, SORMAS Foundation, The Global Fund and Difäm to discuss the results.  

Recommendations for closing the digital divide 

The report of Transform Health highlights six key recommendations and nine priority investment areas to achieve the digital transformation which is estimated to cost 12.5 billion US Dollars for the 78 LMICs mentioned in the report. The conceptual framework highlights how systematic and coordinated investment could overcome challenges towards equitable and sustainable digital health transformations. Read the full report. 

  1. More investment from domestic and international sources prioritising funding to support LMICs in their transition 

  2. Better coordinated and aligned investments ensuring international donors and private sectors funding is aligned with national goals, e.g., tracking funding as part of a wider healthcare investment 

  3. A costed digital health strategy and investment road map ensuring national public health institutes can be in the driver seat 

  4. A robust regulatory framework and policy environment investing in processes that strengthen regulatory environments and policies across countries 

  5. Mechanisms for meaningful multistakeholder engagement with a specific focus on the engagement of the youth and civil society 

  6. Improved digital connectivity as a prerequisite for equitable access, confronting coverage gaps, affordability, and digital literacy 

Sneak peek discussion of the recommendations with leading experts: 

The recommendations in the conceptual framework show what groundwork needs to be done to enable digital transformation in health. After the presentation of the recommendations, the participants shared their viewpoints. Here are some of the key takeaways:  

  • Establishing a public good worth sharing: Digital transformation can only be achieved if it is done equitably and just. This presupposes open access for health data and digital technologies while upholding strong ethical principles to protect patient records, identifiable data, and property rights. 

  • Fostering multidisciplinary collaboration: It is crucial to engage with different stakeholders across sectors and countries (at both national and international level) while fostering innovative initiatives from civil society. This could include co-designing interventions with vulnerable populations to ensure voices with less access to funding and decision-making are elevated.  

  • The WHO as an objective partner: There is an important role for WHO to provide evidence-based guidance and guidelines, thus the capacity of WHO in this area should be strengthened. 

  • Broadening funding schemes to address structural barriers: Investments tend to be coupled to outputs and impacts that are linear and quantifiable. Instead, funding schemes should be broadened to include qualitative indicators such as “well-being” and “health-literacy”. We also need to invest in the health-workforce through training so that digital gains can be implemented immediately 

  • A clear costed national digital health strategy should be the foundation for investment decisions. Ownership needs to be at the country level. Donors should coordinate and align behind the decisions made by countries. Milestone-based financing could be an option for investors. 

The Global Health Hub Germany runs a Hub Community on Global Digital Health Empowerment that brings together stakeholders from different stakeholder groups and sectors with the common goal of addressing the digitalization of health systematically and sustainably. If you would like to learn more and engage in this community, reach out to Merle.Wangerin@globalhealthhub.de  

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