Building and Scaling Solutions for Digital Health in the Global South

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Digital health has emerged as a potential game-changer for enabling accessible, affordable, and quality healthcare for all. The global digital health market was valued at $263 billion in 2022. The Global South, in its quest for universal health coverage, is seeing increased adoption of digital health, particularly due to changes in patient and provider behaviour, increased market investments and emerging policy trends. Strong digital health solutions can help in tackling public health emergencies and in improving access, affordability, and quality of healthcare regardless of one’s physical location – leading to improved health and well-being for all.

However, fragmented digital health policies, coupled with infrastructural challenges can limit the reach and adoption of digital health in underserved communities. The direct replication of solutions from one region to another, without critically assessing needs and contextual specificities, would also be detrimental to their success.

Sattva Consulting, in collaboration with the Aga Khan Foundation, organised a panel discussion on Building and Scaling Solutions for Digital Health in the Global South in London, in September 2023, with experts in the digital health sector and diverse participants from varied backgrounds from corporations, philanthropic foundations, non-profit organisations, and multilaterals. This report captures key insights from the event and explores opportunities for stakeholders to explore and design equitable solutions that can be scaled and implemented across the Global South.

Participants noted that the lack of collaboration with government stakeholders and policymakers can hinder the formulation of effective digital health policies. Thus, for the successful deployment of digital health solutions, leveraging opportunities within emerging public health policies, and building upon existing policy initiatives is paramount. The private sector plays a critical role in driving the adoption of digital health solutions. Strategic purchasing initiatives such as government stand-alone contracting-out (CO) initiatives with private providers delivering primary, diagnostic, and secondary care and government-funded insurance schemes of private hospitals/facilities, alongside public sector and parastatal hospital as a tool, can facilitate this.

As digital health solution providers design and work through interventions, it is critical to understand the dynamics operating within the hierarchies among healthcare professionals and showcase value to each actor to ensure success. Additionally, harnessing artificial intelligence from the very inception of solution design can be very effective. However, care needs to be taken regarding substantial investments in data governance, algorithm management, and a comprehensive assessment of the social and environmental consequences of AI.

In order for digital healthcare infrastructure to thrive, it is necessary to establish underlying basic infrastructure such as electricity, hardware, internet and interoperability between private and public systems in healthcare delivery centres. Considering strategies for designing and implementing digital health solutions informed by regional perspectives from ethnographic research is vital to deliver effective solutions. It was concluded that figuring out the correct financial model is critical for de-risking and complementing capital investments across the value chain of solution development.

  • Dr Dorairaj Prabhakaran, Executive Director, Centre for Chronic Disease Control
  • Dr Lisa Murphy, Technology Lead, Wellcome Trust
  • Sameer Kanwar, Director for Digital Health at PATH, South Asia Region
  • Dr Shehla Zaidi, Professor of Health Policy & Systems at Aga Khan University, Pakistan
  • Steven Serneels, Co-founder at Iristick

Moderator: Lakshmi Sethuraman

Anushka Anand, Ritika Ramasuri, and Granthika Chatterjee

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