SWITZERLAND —The World Health Organization (WHO) has presented its global strategy on digital health for the years 2020 to 2025 at the recent World Health Assembly.

This strategy, developed through a two-year co-creation process, aims to advance the WHO’s “triple billion” targets of universal health coverage, health emergency response, and healthier populations.

Despite being launched before the COVID-19 pandemic, the strategy has proved its relevance as countries’ investments in digital health have strengthened the resilience and responsiveness of their health systems.

Alain Labrique, the Director of the Department of Digital Health and Innovation, highlighted this during the assembly.

The ambitious global strategy on digital health focuses on accelerating the development and adoption of person-centric digital health solutions that are appropriate, accessible, affordable, scalable, and sustainable.

These solutions aim to prevent, detect, and respond to epidemics and pandemics. Additionally, the strategy aims to build infrastructure and applications that allow countries to use health data effectively to achieve the goals set by the WHO and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

To ensure the value and uptake of digital health solutions, the strategy emphasizes factors such as accessibility, efficiency, affordability, versatility, patient privacy, and data security.

It also calls for investment in governance, institutional capacity, workforce training, planning, and management to bring about radical improvements in health outcomes.

By aligning with national strategies for digitizing the health sector, digital health has the potential to enhance efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and introduce new business models for service delivery.

While WHO is working to empower member states with the necessary capacity, guidance, and tools for digital transformation, the specifics of these efforts were not provided during the assembly.

The organization is also facilitating the development of competency-based frameworks to train digitally enabled health workers and working collaboratively to address the digital divide and ensure equitable access to life-saving technologies.

However, there have been criticisms regarding the rollout of WHO’s strategy, with concerns about the lack of leadership within the Department of Digital Health and Innovation.

For example, the launch of the Digital Health Clearinghouse, which assesses and catalogs digital solutions, and the WHO data portal, intended to consolidate digital health assets, has faced delays and is yet to be fully operational.

Despite these challenges, many member states have recognized the importance of digital health and increased their investments in this area following the wake-up call of the pandemic.

Countries like Indonesia, currently holding the G20 Presidency, have prioritized digital health in their health transformation agendas, aiming to build integrated systems that ensure effective processes and provide the best healthcare services.

The United Kingdom, while acknowledging WHO’s efforts, called for more work to unlock the benefits of digital health in health and social care.

The UK delegate emphasized the need for WHO’s leadership in bringing together governments and stakeholders to advance the digital health agenda, address challenges related to data governance and interoperability, and incentivize innovation.

Furthermore, the International Pharmaceutical Students Association urged the WHO and member states to empower young healthcare professionals by including digital health in formal healthcare education curricula.

The association also recommended creating an enabling environment for young innovators through clear funding and mentorship mechanisms, as well as implementing a harmonized digital strategy that includes community pharmacies.

As the WHO continues to navigate the complexities and challenges of implementing its digital health strategy, there is a collective call for stronger leadership, alignment of standards, and transparent reporting of progress.

With concerted efforts and collaboration, digital health has the potential to transform healthcare delivery and improve health outcomes for people worldwide.

For all the latest healthcare industry news from Africa and the World, subscribe to our NEWSLETTER, and YouTube Channel, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, and like us on Facebook.