The potential for harnessing the exponential growth in information and communications technology (ICT) to meet health challenges is evident. Mobile technology is the fastest adopted technology of all time: in 1991, mobile cellular penetration stood at less than 1%, compared to 99.7% in 2016 – and there will be an estimated 5.6 billion smartphones by 2020. Around 90% of that growth will come from low- and middle-income countries.
Despite this promise, however, the digital health landscape today is highly fragmented, with myriad digital health solutions and applications that rarely reach scale and do not always address priority health problems. An essential step towards addressing fragmentation are national digital health strategies.
To make this happen, there is a need for stronger collaboration between ICT and health policy makers. In 2016, we had the honor of chairing the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development Working Group on Digital Health with Nokia. The group convened global digital experts and policy makers to develop recommendations on how digital technology can be institutionalized into national health systems so that it can reach its full potential and address the health priorities of a country. Only then can digital health be a true enabler to accelerate the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 3.
The Group published these recommendations in its 2017 report, “Digital Health: A Call for Government Leadership and Cooperation between ICT and Health.” It is designed as a highly replicable and applicable blueprint on how ministers of ICT and health can work together to reduce the fragmented landscape and ensure scalable solutions and environment shaping for innovation.
Ann Aerts, Head of the Novartis Foundation, is uniquely privileged to be the only health-focused Commissioner on the wider Broadband Commission, chaired by UNESCO and ITU. She continues to be the voice of health on the Commission, and will work with the Digital Health Working Group to steer their next project.