NEW YORK — The World Health Organization is developing its first dedicated digital health strategy with support from the global health nonprofit PATH.
The agreement, signed on Thursday, follows the unanimous support from member states for a proposed resolution for the advancement of digital health at the World Health Assembly in May. PATH and WHO also plan to engage leaders from across public, private, and nonprofit sectors to map out digital health interventions so they can achieve greater scale.
“We’ve seen a lot of solutions that focus on a specific problem, like immunization or HIV, but now we are going to look at primary health care as a whole — how can we digitalize primary health care from the start to the end,” said Henry Mwanyika, regional director for PATH’s digital health work based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Three years ago, after Tanzanian ministry of health officials noticed the success of a PATH digital health initiative focused on immunization, they expressed an interest in using more data and technology across other programs.
“After they identified the potential, we said why don’t we find a way to operationalize the strategy, and together we worked on Tanzania’s digital health investment roadmap,” Mwanyika said.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has since provided $15 million in catalytic funding, and now Tanzania is pursuing the first digital health investment strategy of its kind in the region. PATH representatives told Devex this is an example of what is possible when governments take the lead in their own digital health transformation.
“It is all about finding the right champions,” said Dykki Settle, global program leader for digital health at PATH, emphasizing the importance of buy-in from leadership.
PATH will work with WHO to help inform its global health strategy, identify ways to support countries to build digital infrastructure, and leverage expertise from multiple sectors. And WHO offers PATH an ability to do what it has already done in digital health in a much bigger way, Settle said. He emphasized the power of the WHO brand, as well as its convening power and ability to set the agenda, to convince more countries to do what Tanzania has done.
Last September, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and PATH CEO Steve Davis first spoke about ways PATH might support WHO in spreading the adoption of digital solutions in order to improve health systems.
“We saw the resolution coming down the pike, and this confluence of Dr. Tedros being elected, and wanting to take a fresh look at the way WHO does business, along with this mandate from the member states as a really exciting opportunity,” said Matthew Robinson, multilateral policy and advocacy lead at PATH.
The partnership may also allow other organizations not coordinating with ministries of health to have a more straightforward way they can plug in.
“It can be hard to understand the role the government plays in delivering health services,” Settle said, explaining that for some social entrepreneurs, particularly those from environments of highly privatized health care, there is either a lack of awareness or a lack of patience in terms of working with health ministries.
With a digital health transformation plan in place, they can say, “Here is what we are bringing, and here is how it might fit into your plan and please guide us — what are the standards we should use, who are the groups we need to engage, how can we be good actors in your ecosystem?” he said.
For more on this partnership, and other examples of ways leaders across sectors are coming together to strengthen health systems, consider joining Devex virtually or in person for Prescription for Progress on October 30.