February seems very, very long ago, doesn’t it? When news of a highly contagious virus overseas broke, it was of interest to many Americans, but not necessarily a great concern. Those of us in the global health arena, however, watched with an eye not just on infection patterns and rates, but also on each countries’ perceived preparedness for handling a mass outbreak.
When the spread of the virus proved rapid, it became clear that previously successful ways of tracking the disease were not going to be enough in this hyper-connected global community. The issues we are facing now underscore the need for investment in health systems worldwide.
ICTWorks shared an article last week about how ICT4D can support rapid response rates for communicable disease outbreaks. South Africa, Nigeria, and Liberia used mobile technology to connect with and educate their citizens. South Korea employed GPS data for travel patterns as well as other means of tracking their citizens to trace migratory patterns. While you may or may not agree with South Korea’s methods, the digital tools they used proved effective. And in order to use the tools, a digital infrastructure must exist.
Kati Collective is working with a global funder on a toolkit aimed at helping countries identify their readiness for and the types of digital interventions they could use to solve specific health system bottlenecks. Investing in a digital infrastructure is a significant undertaking when a country is not in crisis. During a pandemic? The stakes are higher, but one can argue that it is even more necessary to proceed with establishing national digital health strategies which allow for faster, better, and more accurate capture and use of critical data.
With a health security perspective, we are looking at our current global health situation and asking:
Is it possible to catch up? Can we forecast health needs three to six months into the future and build a digital system that will integrate with current methods?
When planning to engage in or expand a digital health system, we suggest studying these resources:
We, as a global community, now must come together to ensure citizens of LMICs and first world countries have the information they need to successfully implement strategies to keep themselves safe from Covid-19 today and from whatever future viruses follow this current outbreak.
Image: A regional hospital in Tanzania. Photo: Kirsten Gagnaire