Digital health: A new generational shift in primary healthcare

A lot can happen in one generation. For Barbra, mother of two-year old Given in Uganda, a generational shift means that her children have a far better chance of surviving birth than she did. Around 20 years ago, 95 out of every 1,000 live births resulted in death. Today that number has fallen dramatically to 53 out of every 1,000.

Around the world, many early newborn deaths are easily preventable. With better training, improved monitoring and more timely interventions, a lot can be done to save young lives. But, in remote areas like Barbra’s town of Kotido in the far north of Uganda, accessing essential information and services in a timely way can be a challenge.

UNICEF and partners have shown that digital health can be an effective approach in overcoming these challenges and helping to reach those most in need.

Tapping into mHealth

Digital health can help solve problems of time, distance and coordination in the delivery of health services to children like Given, especially when they are designed with users at the centre of the process. Free updates via each user’s preferred mobile channel provide neonatal advice to mothers in remote villages, patient tracking and quality of care support to frontline health workers, and community data flows that strengthen health systems. These are a few of the examples that are revolutionizing health care.

The opportunities offered by digital health are especially relevant to primary health care in addressing issues such as equity, and the training and support of the health workforce. This week, world leaders, government ministers, development partners, civil society and young people will meet in Astana for the Global Conference on Primary Health Care, jointly hosted by the Government of Kazakhstan, UNICEF and WHO. The Conference will mark 40 years since the first Global Conference on Primary Health Care, held in 1978 in Almaty (then Alma-Ata), Kazakhstan.

UNICEF is excited to share new a set of open source digital health solutions at the meeting, adding to the body of global knowledge on how to best meet the health needs of communities and families. These tools include a human-centred design toolkit to help public health specialists design digital health interventions, and a human-centred field guide and related set of tools (a workbook and process poster) to help public health specialists design new solutions in creating demand for health services.

These resources distill experiences and insights from UNICEF’s work in this area, and include strategic guidance on incorporating digital health into national health programming, as well as tools to apply the human-centred design approach to addressing challenges related to community demand for basic health services, and to guide the design of digital health interventions (visit www.hcd4health.org for more details).

UNICEF’s vision is of a world where no child dies from a preventable disease and all children have the opportunity reach their full potential in health and well-being. One death is still one too many. UNICEF and partners will continue to work tirelessly to apply effective solutions like digital health and seek  innovative approaches to help more children like Given to survive and thrive.

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