PAHO Director urges “leaving no one behind” in digital transformation of public health

23 Feb 2021
Digital health transformation

PAHO delivers eight-point “call to action” during high-level health ministers conference to advance digitization

Washington, D.C. February 23, 2021 (PAHO) Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F. Etienne today called on health ministers and officials in the Americas to work toward eight principles in the digital transformation of public health, including achieving universal connectivity.

“We need to take a fresh look at public health, one that is much more holistic and inclusive, that considers new critical factors for the success of interventions, such as connectivity, bandwidth, interoperability, artificial intelligence, among others,” Dr. Etienne said at a high-level virtual conference of health officials. “This renewed approach must also consider inequities in the digital era to ensure that the digital divide does not widen the gaps in health inequities.”

Digital health, in which people and health systems in every country are connected electronically so their health information is easily available and transferable, is important for both patients and health service providers.

The goal of this initiative is to accelerate the digital transformation of the health sector and strengthen information systems for health across the Americas. The principles include creating digital public health goods; accelerating progress for vulnerable populations; global cooperation on emerging technologies; and implementing open, sustainable, digital information systems for health that work with each other.

In her remarks, Dr. Etienne said that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the need for health systems to be “more resilient, interdisciplinary, intersectoral and interconnected than ever…It may seem obvious, but to achieve the goal of leaving no one behind, first we need to know that this person does exist; we need to know where he or she is, and we need to know what their social and health situation is.”

“It is also imperative to consistently know the state of our health systems and their ability to respond to the particular needs of individuals, their communities and families,” she continued. “And the only way to know this is if we have information systems capable of capturing and processing critical and disaggregated data and making it available to the entire health system without exceptions.”

The conference, which included representatives from countries throughout the Americas, originated from the 2016 Information Systems for Health (IS4H) initiative formed during meetings between PAHO and Caribbean leaders in Kingston, Jamaica. The aim of the initiative was defined as implementing universal access to health and health care coverage by strengthening interconnected information systems that provide high-quality data, strategic information, and digital health tools for decision making and well-being.

In subsequent years, Central American and South American nations joined the Caribbean initiative. A plan of action to support the initiative was approved during PAHO’s 2019 Directing Council meeting.

In other milestones, several PAHO member countries implemented roadmaps for developing and strengthening information systems.

Based on the strong commitment of member countries, PAHO provided $1.5 million to support projects that directly contribute to the Sustainable Health Agenda 2018-2030. Forty countries presented 172 projects, and 37 projects were awarded the resources.

In four years, the maturity of health information systems in 49 Latin American and Caribbean countries has been assessed. A tool kit, which includes technical guidelines, managerial instruments, podcast and knowledge capsules for project implementation, was developed for member nations. PAHO has provided technical support and guidance throughout the initiative.

“Since 2016 and to date, we’ve made significant progress and we can attest to the level of maturity of information systems of the entire continent,” said PAHO Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa da Silva Jr.

“This has enabled us to have specific roadmaps and designs for the development and strengthening of information systems based on available evidence and in keeping with a shared framework that enables us to concentrate efforts on local priorities,” he continued. “This provides us with the necessary confidence in order to take another essential step together with you toward the positioning of public health in what the Secretary General of the United Nations called "The Era of Digital Interdependence."

Contacts

Daniel Epstein
Nancy Nusser
Sebastián Oliel
mediateam@paho.org