PAHO calls for the participation of women in digital transformation to improve health and equality 

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Washington, DC, 8 March 2023 (PAHO) – To mark International Women’s Day, the Pan American  Health Organization (PAHO) hosted a panel of regional experts to discuss this year’s theme: “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality,” which focused on the transformative role digital health has in improving the lives of women and girls. 

Panelists explored the impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities and the importance of digital access and know-how. 

Dr. Mary Lou Valdez, PAHO’s Deputy Director and Jessie Schutt-Aine, Chief of Equity, Gender and Cultural Diversity (EGC)  at PAHO, welcomed panellists and more than 300 online attendees as they emphasized that one of PAHO’s key mandates is to contribute to gender equality in health in the Region of the Americas. 

Addressing the issue of digital inclusion of women, Ana Estela Haddad, Secretary of Information and Digital Health of the Ministry of Health in Brazil, spoke of “the importance of breaking barriers and reducing inequalities while strengthening the progress that has been made.” 

Antonia Benito, a journalist, and member of the Network of Indigenous Youth of Latin America called attention to digital access in Guatemala. "Even if we are in the middle of a digital revolution, there are still communities that lack electricity or access to the internet. This limits access to information that can empower women and girls.” 

Benito underscored the vital role many indigenous women in Guatemala play in the health sector, such as the comadronas, or traditional midwives, who are often lagging in digital skills. “Remote communities benefit from the health care provided by the comadronas, but some don’t know how to read or write, and yet are grappling with how to use a smart phone,” she added.

Jennifer Nelson, a specialist for Digital Health at the International Development Bank (IDB), spoke of including “a differential approach to digital health transformation, considering the needs of specific populations and co-creating solutions with them with intentionality.” Nelson encouraged the involvement of more women in the design of telehealth solutions, thereby advancing digital transformation while also helping to save lives. 

Marcelo D’Agostino, Senior Advisor from the Department of Evidence and Intelligence for Action in Health (EIH) at PAHO, who co-chaired the panel, made a call to action: “This is not just a one day action, this is the first step towards establishing a network and community practice that will operate permanently, monitoring topics on women's empowerment in the field of digital transformation in the health sector with the idea of analyzing possible biases, as well as opportunities for training.” Partners for this effort include the Ministry of Health of Brazil, IDB, USAID, the CDC as well as the Network of Indigenous Youth of Latin America, among others. 

“The advancement of telemedicine and other technologies hold much potential for individual as well as collective health,” added Haddad of Brazil, “and this was made clear in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

PAHO’s Director, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, closed the discussion by highlighting the achievements to date and applauded the interest in making digital transformation a reality to empower women, but called on everyone to remember one of the biggest issues afflicting our region:  “It is very important to salute all women, but I also extend an invitation to make today a day of reflection on the struggle against all forms of violence against women in our region and around the world.” 

Additional information:

The World Health Organization (WHO) Global Strategy on Digital Health, adopted in 2020 by the World Health Assembly, states that digital health can improve health outcomes and contribute to more efficient and sustainable health systems, enabling them to deliver good quality, affordable and equitable care for all. Therefore, under PAHO's leadership, the Region of the Americas was the first region to approve the Resolution CD59/6 - Roadmap for the Digital Transformation of the Health Sector in the Region of the Americas to accelerate the processes of digital transformation of the health sector in all countries and territories in the continent, and since 2020 has been promoting the positioning of women leaders in digital health. 

“DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality” event panelists: 

  • Jarbas Barbosa, PAHO Director 
  • Lou Valdez, PAHO Deputy Director 
  • Ana Estela Haddad, Secretary of Information and Digital Health of the Ministry of Health in Brazil 
  • Jennifer Nelson, International Development Bank specialist for Digital Health 
  • Antonia Benito, Network of Indigenous Youth of Latin America, and the Caribbean 
  • Marcelo D’Agostino,  Senior Advisor, Department of Evidence and Intelligence for Action in Health (EIH) at PAHO 
  • Jessie Schutt – Aine, Chief, Equity, Gender and Cultural Diversity (EGC) at PAHO 
  • Sebastián García Saiso, Director, Department of Evidence and Intelligence for Action in Health (EIH) at PAHO