WHO identifies avenues for Digital Health Technologies in Africa

The digital age has revolutionized the way we communicate, interact and do business. In recent times, various health aspects have gone digital in the developed West and this trend has been filtering through to other parts of the world.

Over 500 health and technology experts converged in Washington DC recently to network and share information on using technology for health in low and middle income countries, mostly in the Africa Region.

Participants to the Global Digital Health Forum were drawn from Ministries of Health, donors and implementing organizations. The World Health Organization Africa Regional Office (WHO AFRO) was represented at the premiere networking and knowledge event, with presentations on digital health road maps, personal health devices and wearables and digital health governance. Participants learned about new opportunities for investment and strengthened coordination with existing partnerships.

The theme this year was  “Evolving Digital Health Landscape: Progress, Achievements and Remaining Frontiers” – which captured the spirit of progress made in recent years, to scale-up digital health systems and encourage a critical examination for continued innovation and integration to improve health outcomes.

On the margins of the technology get-together was the  Global Digital Health Network and the The Personal Connected Health Alliance (PCHAlliance), whose objective was to connect government stakeholders, digital health developers, researchers, donors, implementers and field experts from across the globe. The Forum featured panel discussions, presentations, hands-on workshops and the interactive “Appy Hour”, where health applications where show cased.  New at this year’s meeting were TED-style talks -  presentations were made in conversation style mode, with limited use of PowerPoint, facilitated expert round-table discussions, and digital health labs.

Among the key themes was a joint session by WHO and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) on using digital health services to accelerate Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Africa Region. Salient features relating to data exchange platforms, capacity building, partnerships and integrated electronic medical devices

 of the recently launched digital health effort for Africa between WHO AFRO and ITU were tabled discussed. The presentation centered on how technology can be adopted in the health sector to promote Universal Health Coverage and the SGDs.

The meeting in Washington also offered an opportunity to engage key WHO funders and potential collaborators, including USAID (RAD & ACS), the BMGF, the Botnar Foundation, EAC, Digital Square amongst others.

Madagascar was identified as a priority country for WHO and ITU to start joint activities in health technologies, considering that the country recently suffered a number of health emergencies. Other key next steps included follow up discussions with USAID and RAD on using digital health to support data processes and discussions with Academia on development of digital health eLearning platforms for leadership.

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