WHO Launches Digital Health Action Plan To Guide Expert Group’s Work

The World Health Organization has launched a plan to accelerate the use of digital technologies to meet global public health needs, following the first-ever meeting of a WHO Technical Advisory Group on digital health.

“All governments are facing increasing demands to provide health services to their citizens, and many digital technologies offer solutions to help meet these needs,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a press release issued on Friday at the close of the meeting.  “But countries require confidence in what works. The action plan agreed today focuses our efforts on helping the world benefit from digital health technologies and solutions while safeguarding the misuse of people’s data and protecting their health.”

Digital health experts developed an action plan to focus the new WHO Technical Advisory Group’s activities and priorities over the next two years at a two-day meeting  at WHO’s Geneva headquarters, focusing on defining WHO’s role in supporting digital transformation at the global and country level. Topics discussed included:

  • Developing a global framework for WHO to validate, implement and scale up digital health technology and solutions;
  • Recommendations for safe and ethical use of digital technologies to strengthen national health systems by improving quality and coverage of care, increasing access to health information;
  • Advice on advocacy and partnership models to accelerate use of digital health capabilities in countries to achieve better health outcomes;
  • Advice on emerging digital health technologies with global reach and impact, so no one is left behind.

WHO is particularly interested in using digital health as an “accelerator” to achieve Universal Health Coverage at the national level, said Bernardo Mariano, director of WHO’s Department of Digital Health and Innovation in a press conference. WHO is looking to achieve a “quadruple win” – for patients and providers, academia, governments, and the private sector – to “really use data to advance the achievement of Universal Health Coverage,” he said.

Steve Davis, co-chair of the new WHO Advisory Group and president/chief executive officer of Global Health at PATH, an international health technologies non-profit, added that the deployment of better data and digital health tools could particularly help in expanding primary health care coverage.

“The opportunity over the next 10 years, to be more precise about where the problems are, to get remote tools to reach new people, to empower the health workers, and to empower patients is extraordinary,” he said.

As examples, he said health systems would be strengthened by:  improving data flows; enabling health workers to be more productive by using electronic data collection systems; and getting new diagnostic and treatment tools into the hands of clinicians.

According to Mariano, the first Global Action Plan for Digital Health, covering 2020 – 2024, will be brought before WHO member states for approval at the World Health Assembly in May 2020. That will be two years after the passage of World Health Assembly Resolution (WHA/71 A71) that recognized the expanding role of role digital technologies in furthering health.

Image Credits: WHO.