Embracing 2021 With a Full Agenda

“The use and scale-up of digital health solutions can revolutionize how people worldwide achieve higher standards of health, and access services to promote and protect their health and well-being.”

- WHO statement on Digital Health




Authors: Laura Murphy and Maurizio Arseni


How can technology modernize our public health systems? At the Institute for Technology and Global Health, we believe that technology should be part of the future of public health only if all stakeholders are involved in its development and deployment. Inclusion will be our keystone as we scaffold the frontier of digital health infrastructure. Public health impacts us all, and all of us must have a voice in the innovation of the public health systems.


The coronavirus pandemic showed the importance (and current deficits) of fully integrating tech expertise into the response to local and global health crises. The pressing need has created an upsurge in innovation. Policymakers, practitioners, researchers, civil society-- and individuals such as you and I-- are coming together to develop and evaluate technologies as they are applied to public health. Through a participatory approach, the Institute seeks to translate these collective queries into practical solutions, accelerating multidisciplinary collaboration and research.


“This is going to be a highly collaborative effort,” reflected Khahlil Louisy, President of the Institute. “We want to bring together different groups that can build on our vision of a future where digital tools are used to support public health but not abused to the detriment of societal well-being.”


In an effort to contribute to the discussions taking place inside international organizations, the Institute has recently joined the WHO Working Group for COVID and was part of the Special Session of the General Assembly in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic on December 3rd at the UN headquarters in New York. Our 2021 agenda comprises projects and partners ready to tackle the global challenges that lie ahead.


Since October 2020, we have undertaken an ambitious project alongside the Global Digital Health Index (GDHI) to expand an online tool for countries to benchmark and monitor their investments in digital health over time. Using the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) eHealth Strategy Toolkit, the GDHI is an openly available and interactive resource that tracks, monitors, and evaluates the use of digital technology for health across countries.


As for domestic affairs, the Institute is collaborating with a number of key public health officials in the U.S. to develop a central data and resource-sharing digital platform called "The Nucleus." We are committed to promoting an open data system that can support health officials in their quest for evidence-based programs to face challenges in times of crisis.


In an effort to promote real solutions to current emergencies, in November 2020, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Haitian Institute for Statistics and Informatics partnered with the Institute to embark on a major health systems transformation in Haiti. The project is set to develop, implement, and evaluate health data collection systems, telemedicine, and the expansion of a health and humanitarian crises response center.


We hope to continue working with our local partners and have recently joined efforts with the University of Guam. The COVID-19 response on the island has featured the launch of an Exposure Notification app developed by PathCheck Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the development of technology to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and the parent organization of the Institute for Technology and Global Health. The Institute is collaborating with the University of Guam to assess what drives smartphone users’ adoption of Exposure Notification apps and aims to produce lessons for digital contact tracing implementations around the world.


In the near future, our work will primarily focus on telemedicine, vaccine deployment strategies, public health communications, and privacy measures in health data collection systems. While there is room to make public health more efficient, these systems affect segments of the population differently and we are interested in exploring those impacts to propose effective and equitable policy solutions. Our educational programs and public events will bridge the knowledge gap and facilitate a dialogue between academia, the private sector, public health officials, and the general public to build an ecosystem that nurtures innovation in the field of digital health.


We hope you’ll join us in 2021-- we’re just getting started.


Image courtesy of Laura Murphy