A powerful partnership to revolutionize digital health

September 26, 2018 by Dykki Settle

How PATH, WHO, and an international network of partners are transforming global health through digital technology and innovation

A health worker uses a mobile app in Vietnam

A health worker uses a mobile app in Vietnam. Photo: PATH/Cuong Nguyen Phu.

More than 130 million children will be born this year—and none of them will grow up to manage their health like we do today. In wealthy and middle-income communities, their parents will receive health information from multiple online and offline sources. Soon, it will be considered normal to speak with health care professionals and artificial intelligence–powered chatbots about health issues. And, it will be increasingly common for patients to receive personalized medical interventions based on their genetic and behavioral profiles.

Technology and innovation are turning traditional health care on its head with the power to dramatically improve quality of life and extend life expectancy. The question is: How long will parents in lower-income communities have to wait before they can access these transformative technologies?

A health worker reviews immunization data on his tablet in Tanzania.

A health worker reviews immunization data on his tablet at Kaoleni health center in Arusha, Tanzania. Photo: PATH/Trevor Snapp.

With global access to technology and high-quality data expanding at a blistering pace—driving health innovation and opening up economic opportunity—the global health community has a role to play in accelerating access to innovation so that no matter where a child is born, they have an equal chance to grow up healthy and to thrive. Because the reality is that too often in lower-income settings, the deployment of digital health technologies and innovation are frayed by duplication, fragmentation, unsustainable pilots, and a lack of resources.

PATH and the World Health Organization (WHO) are partnering to solve these challenges. This week marks the launch of the WHO-PATH Strategic Collaboration on Innovation and Global Digital Health. We will bring together leading experts from across sectors and geographies to discover the best ideas with the potential to radically improve health systems and health equity—delivering on the promise of digital health for all people.

malaria case investigator, holding a cell phone to submit data he has collected.

Fadel Ba, a malaria case investigator, looks for stronger cell phone reception in order to submit data he has collected. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

This effort builds upon the landmark digital health resolution, passed unanimously at the 2018 World Health Assembly. PATH will support WHO in developing its first overarching strategy for digital health. We are focused on advancing universal health coverage and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by helping countries accelerate their digital health transformation.

Our collaboration with WHO will build a cross-sector network of influencers and digital health stakeholders, including companies, international organizations, funders, and governments, to identify and develop effective solutions whereby digital technologies and innovation can have the greatest positive impact on public health. From improved primary care design and the development of interoperable information systems to targeted applications of artificial intelligence and gene editing technology, the partnership will leverage strategic, focused investments to help shape the building blocks of next-generation digital health systems.

PATH brings more than four decades of experience in successfully managing ambitious health solutions from conception to implementation. With expertise in science, health, economics, technology, advocacy, and dozens of other specialties, we develop and scale solutions to strengthen health systems worldwide. Our work includes product development and introduction, coordinating regulatory authority and market optimization in partner countries, and leveraging the capabilities of a diverse array of corporate partners, public institutions, social enterprises, and investors to advance global health equity.

Zambia data collector completes a form.

In Sinafala village, Zambia, data collector Odinga Chitonka completes a form during house-to-house malaria testing and treatment. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

At PATH, we work every day to push the frontiers of health and technology forward to reach the people most in need. Initiatives like Digital Square coordinate investments in proven digital technology to maximize the impact of every dollar spent, scale global technologies that can be adapted to different countries and contexts, and help countries foster markets for digital health by building the capacity of governments, local technology developers, and health workers. Through the Data Use Partnership, we are working with the government of Tanzania to strengthen digital health through the implementation of a country-owned strategy to improve data and overall health-sector performance. We are proud to be at the center of an international effort that acknowledges digital health is no longer a stand-alone effort, but an essential enabler of effective health systems, impacting every aspect of global health.

The WHO-PATH Strategic Collaboration on Innovation and Global Digital Health builds on our long history of partnership. Together, WHO and PATH have distributed more than 7 billion vaccine vial monitors to ensure vaccine efficacy and reduce wastage and protected hundreds of millions of people from meningitis A and Japanese encephalitis, and we are working to introduce the revolutionary RTS,S malaria vaccine. We have also partnered on numerous successful digital initiatives—including the first formal WHO classification and guidelines for digital health interventions and the Global Digital Health Atlas, a technology registry platform that strengthens the impact and scale of emerging health innovations.

Environmental Health Officer Zambia, reviews malaria surveillance data on a laptop computer

Monde Mathews, Environmental Health Officer for Gwembe district, Zambia, reviews malaria surveillance data on a laptop computer. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

My team and I could not be more excited to once again join WHO in the evolving and transformative arena of digital health. Drawing upon our combined technical expertise, regional networks and support mechanisms, and deep relationships across sectors, we are poised to realize the potential of digital technologies and innovation for hundreds of millions of people—working hand in hand with countries and partners around the world to usher in a new era for global public health.

Author Dykki Settle leads our Digital Health program.