Digital Health Systems Must Consciously Engage Young People – Health Policy Watch

(LR) Dr Conrad Tankou, Yifan Zhou, Sarah Tuytschaever, Joseline Carias Galeano, Sameer Pujari and Dr Ilona Kickbusch at the event.

Achieving universal health coverage by 2030, as decided this week by the World Health Assembly, should ideally bring with it a bouquet of possibilities through digital technologies.

Digital health technologies have improved the delivery of health services by improving access to COVID-19 vaccination in Canada and by improving access to breast and cervical cancer screening in Cameroon.

A multifaceted panel discussion organized by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Students (IPSF) and committee, Governing Health Futures 2030: Growing up in a Digital World, on the sidelines of the World Health L\’ Geneva assembly deliberated on how to exploit digital technology in the service of global health.

Digital health must benefit vulnerable people

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the functioning of healthcare systems around the world, cutting off access to much-needed regular medical care for millions of people. The pandemic has not only held back the world\’s progress in tackling diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, it has also complicated people\’s access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Creating an electronic record and information system at a clinic providing care to vulnerable populations in Canada was one way digital health worked wonders.

As a member of a student group that has worked closely with such clinics in Canada, Yifan Zhou, president of external relations at IPSF, said he focused on not leaving vulnerable groups behind when designing solutions digital to solve health problems.

The student group also helped create a digital model that provides vaccination appointments at clinics instead of walk-ins, which has served as a preventative measure around COVID-19.

It is important that digital solutions are designed for the communities they serve. They don\’t have to be really fancy, they just have to be practical to solve a problem, Zhou stressed.

Dr. Conrad Tankou, an Africa Young Innovators for Health Award and physician, added that while there is ample potential to combine the power of digital technology in healthcare, especially with youth engagement, there are difficulties in acquiring adequate resources to make it happen.

Clearly you need resources to be able to build the solution. And then you come across another situation where you need resources to carry out pilot projects. You need resources to conduct clinical trials, then come across other resources, be able to get regulatory approvals, and then bring it to market, she explained. How do you navigate all of this as a youngster?

As a possible solution to these burning questions, Tankou created the Global Space for Innovation and Creativity (GIC) in Africa, which brings together young professionals to collaborate on co-creating digital solutions to tackle health problems.

The idea was to build a solution where women in remote areas can have access to screening and diagnosis [for cervical and breast cancer]she said, adding that over time this tool has integrated other hardware technologies that have enabled these women to access health services from specialized health providers in cities, from their remote regions, based on their diagnosis.

Legal and ethical issues

Any conversation about the exploitation of digital technologies involves legal and ethical concerns.Establishing principles of governance rooted in the human rights of the patients and people these technologies serve is essential to moving the idea forward, said Joseline Carias Galeano, director general of RECAINSA.

We believe that to have digital healthcare solutions, we need strong legal regulations that can guarantee people\’s rights.

This highlights the need for close collaborations between different sectors such as academia, industry, governance and technology.

I always feel like everyone has a piece of the puzzle, said Sarah Tuytschaever, head of digital care transformation at UCB extension.

Sounds a lot easier than it is, but how do we align all the incentives of these different factors and actually form that partnership?… And then when it comes to implementation, what we always forget is that we focus on the patient outcome .

Cautiously optimistic

While digital health has been the buzzword in global health circles in the recent past, it\’s important to remain cautiously optimistic about its potential, said Sameer Pujari, head of AI and digital frontier ecosystems at the World Health Organization (WHO).

Emphasizing the importance of scalability of technologies used to improve healthcare and evidence is also coming in the food fortification aspects of global health, Pujari said, \’There are many opportunities.. make sure everyone working on AI are cautiously optimistic and use AI responsibly, I think that\’s the most important thing.

As the healthcare sector evolves to include more digital tools to improve quality, efficiency and reduce costs, it is equally critical to ensure that it is not only gender neutral but also demographic, engaging thus more men in health care delivery, which is currently dominated by women.

I urge young people to help us and take the lead in rethinking health systems and what health systems we want, said Dr. Ilona Kickbusch, senior research scientist at the Geneva Graduate Institute. She added that global health leaders need to consciously engage young professionals in the co-design of digital health systems.

If we can develop a footprint for sustainable and equitable digital health systems, then we will have done our job. And we need it sooner rather than later.

Image credits: Twitter/Government Health Futures 2030.

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