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Posts tagged with "Global Alliance for Women’s Health"

Leveraging Technology to Improve Health

Un March 13 2015

Providing appropriate health care is a challenge in remote areas of developing and developed nations, where skilled professional health personnel and facilities are limited. However, e-health, with tools to redesign care models around the common needs of discrete patient populations, is saving lives every day, and serving as a spring-board for further progress.

I spoke recently at the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations, The main focus of the session was  tied to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and  two of the most compelling Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), incorporated in that report,  which seek specifically to reduce maternal and infant deaths by 2015. The Bejing+20  report, based on a 64-country survey, demonstrates,  in detail, the vital role e-health and  information and communication technologies (ICTs)  play  in achieving  the current challenges: gender equality,  empowerment of women, and the improved health of women and children.

The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health 2013. Geneva. World Health Organization Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 mdgs/en/index.html

Because of a concern for women, infants and children in some of the most vulnerable populations around the world, a symposium, sponsored by the Global Alliance for Women’s Health, outlined how innovative approaches use ICT to increase patient engagement, close communication gaps, and provide viable, life-saving solutions.In my presentation, I described many digital technologies that are now available, including:

Mobile devices and remote chronic care monitoring apps.
Telemedicine, using voice, data, text, imaging and video, to enable virtual second opinions and consultations and office visits.
Data mining tools and cloud computing that hold enormous amounts of data for retrieval and analysis.
The internet with its vast array of resources and social networks.
Digitized health records that provide the communication bridges between providers and consumers and insure that a patient’s full information is available at the point of care.

I discussed the fact that Internet and mHealth have become almost indispensable, common instruments of change for a huge and growing segment of the population around the world. Already, well over 100 countries are using mobile phones to achieve better health. Internet access is expanding everywhere.

The ITU (International Telecommunications Union, a UN Agency) estimates that, by the end of 2014, almost 3 billion people were using the Internet, corresponding to a global penetration rate of 40.4 per cent. This compares to 38 percent penetration a year earlier, and 30 percent penetration just four years earlier. There are still 4.3 billion people worldwide who are not yet using the Internet, 90 per cent of whom live in the developing world. In developed countries more than three out of every person are online; in the developing nations it is one out of three.  The ITU also reports that 98% of the world’s population have cellphones, although they are not so plentiful in many developing nations.

There are, some encouraging stories.

Several developing countries are beginning to use e-Health technology to create registries for births, deaths and cause of deaths, which is a significant step toward understanding general disease trends and patterns in population health.

Deployment of telemedicine, tele-consulting and other ways of achieving remote access from central urban based health facilities out  to health workers and patients has also had a significant impact on maternal, neonatal and pediatric care.  Telemedicine technology is being deployed in Austria, Belgium, Finland and Germany for management of chronic conditions; in Ghana for fostering communication among physicians; in Northern Pakistan for enabling collaboration among community health centers, and in Cameroon for monitoring patients with hypertension

Short Message Systems texted or sent as voice messages to mobile phones are improving health in virtually all settings, large and small, urban and rural.  SMS technology is cost efficient, easy to set up and maintain and has the broadest possible reach. It is a way to get out messages to the general population about non-communicable and communicable diseases; a way to encourage people to be more engaged and proactive in their health; to recognize the reasons for and the actions to be taken for better health. Short messages offer advice on specific conditions and on general health and wellness; issues such as  nutrition, alcohol, tobacco, drug use, as well as early warnings about potential epidemics, immunizations  and disaster recovery. SMS requires virtually little or no training of health workers.

In Bangladesh, where 98% of the population has a cellphone, SMS has been used to increase awareness of general health issues about vaccinations, immunizations, information on breast feeding, prenatal and postnatal care and more.

In South Africa. where the incidence of HIV/ AIDs is higher than anywhere in the world and where the stigma is so great that people will not go to the health clinic to get a test kit, SMS messages in the local language, sent daily to a million mobile phones are instructing people to call the national hotline and ask for a test kit that can be used at home, in private. SMS is also being used in South Africa and elsewhere to instruct people and their health workers on medication adherence, how to monitor HIV/AIDS and when medical interventions are needed. The South Africa campaign is the largest outreach SMS campaign in the world and indicates the promise of a future where SMS will make a difference in health outcomes, one message at a time.

Exciting things are happening. Empowering patients, especially women patients, to understand their right to basic health services and educate themselves to gather information, engage in communication and use technology will foster better health outcomes for everyone. We have come a long way and we have more to do. At the UN great efforts are underway to get to the finish line.

UN Forum Includes Health IT Recommendations



UN Geneva.2The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was established by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1946. It is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. The active participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is a critical element in the work of CSW. NGOs have been influential in shaping the current global policy framework on women’s empowerment and gender equality: the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

On November 3-5, at the United Nations in Geneva, I was invited to speak in the Geneva NGO Forum –Beijing +20 Un ECE Regional Review which focused on gender equality in all spheres of life. The five areas of priority in the NGO CSW agenda include:
o Women’s Rights Peace and Justice
o Women’s Economic Empowerment and Employment
o Displacement and Migration
o Women’s Health and Education
o Violence against Women & Girls

I participated in the Women and Health interactive roundtable, representing  The Global Alliance for Women’s Health (GAWH) a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council and committed to advancing women’s health in all stages of life and at all policy levels, through health promotion, education, advocacy, and program implementation.

My presentation, entitled: Expediting Advances in Women’s Health through Internet and mHealth, focused on the three core elements of digital healthcare:
1. Full information at the point of care: the right information on the patient, in the right place, at the right time.
2. Communication, collaboration and  continuity of care
3. Data access, chronic care management and population health.

I described the digital tools that support each of these core elements including:
Digital health records and health information exchange to achieve full information at the point of care;
Patient portals that enable email and e-visits for continuous communication,
Short Message Systems (SMS) that send text message notifications and reminders to smartphones and tablets;
Smartphones apps that foster collaboration between patients and providers;
Chronic care management tools such as telemonitoring systems, wearable devices, smart medication dispensers; and many of the   apps that monitor body vitals and interconnect with providers for analysis and treatment decisions.
Telemedicine including video-conferencing that enables quality care to be delivered to patients who reside in remote locations where there is a shortage of health care workers.

I talked about the need for patients to have access to data and information and how that is accomplished via the Internet, where patients can search for health information and connect with social networks so that they can better understand their health issues and make better health choices for themselves and their family.
I also pointed out that no matter how isolated certain patient groups are, 98% of the world’s population have a basic cellular phone, enabling them, at the very least, to receive text messages (SMS) that provide reminders about immunizations, taking medication, and keeping appointments with health providers, nutrition advice, and more.

I concluded my  presentation by pointing out how digital communication technology, the Internet and mHealth foster empowered patients – women who  take charge of their health issues and manage health care for themselves and their families; engaged patients, women who actively participate in the health care experience by using digital tools to collaborate with their providers to make good health care choices and treatment decisions; educated patients who use digital tools to advance their  knowledge about what is feasible and available to them.

As a result of my presentation, digital technology in health has been included, for the first time,  as one of the recommendations  in the  outcome  report  from the  Geneva NGO Forum, which  will  be  part of  the CSW report submitted to  the  UN Economic Commission for Europe for the  annual  CSW meeting in New York in March, 2015. At this meeting representatives of Member States will gather at United Nations Headquarters to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate  policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide.

Expediting Advances in Women’s Health through Internet and


Digital Communication and mHealth in Developing Nations

Patient empowerment and education is a key benefit of digital communication technology.  This was the main message of a speech I recently delivered at the United Nations 58th Commission on the Status of Women Symposium. The session was sponsored by the Global Alliance for Women’s Health and entitled: “How Digital Communication Impacts Health Care in Developing Nations.”

The Global Alliance for Women’s Health  is an organization formed in 1994 to advance women’s health in all stages of life and at all policy levels, through advocacy, education and program implementation.  They engage in collaborations with government and non-government agencies (NGOs), the private sector, academics and individual citizens, all of whom were represented at this session.

With approximately 98 % of the world’s population now in possession of cellphones, an m-Health (mobile health) infrastructure is in place that can provide access to healthcare and health-related information, particularly for hard-to-reach populations where solar powered charging stations enable the cellphones, tablet computers and PDAs to work.

Among the benefits from this network of mobile health devices are: improved ability to diagnose and track diseases; timelier, more actionable public health information; and expanded access to ongoing medical education and training for health workers.

These m-Health applications include collecting community and clinical health data by local health workers, and delivery of that data to practitioners, researchers, and patients in real-time; monitoring of patients’ vital signs; and educating patients in basic health practices.

SMS or Short Message Service campaigns translated into multiple languages and dialects, send reminders to patients via text messages to urge them to get a check-up or to pay attention to nutrition guidelines. Communication and connections happen irrespective of time and place, and information is available to health workers at the point of care and for continuity of care.

Although not a panacea, the technology helps  address some of the overwhelming medical issues prevalent throughout the developing world, including: malaria, diabetes, maternal mortality, HIV, Typhoid fever, Hepatitis, food, water and airborne bacterial and viral infections, and severe malnutrition and anemia  which become an underlying cause of many of these illnesses, and  result in infant, child and maternal mortality.

There are many new technologies and apps that are on smartphones, tablets and other wireless technologies that do not require electrical power and will have widespread benefit in developing nations, including:

  • Wearable Devices that have built-in sensors to monitor heart rate, pulse, blood pressure and blood sugar, weight; wireless
  • Robots that are used for diagnostic purposes as well as remote assistance with complicated surgery;
  • Telemedicine that connects local health workers with trauma centers throughout the world;
  • Personalized medicine and as yet undiscovered devices and applications can bring about amazing results.

To succeed, however, there must be a strong commitment from the national ministries of health, and collaborations with sponsors and private foundations who must continue to build and expand the mHealth infrastructure and telemedicine networks that have the potential to change the world.

UN presentation.4 How Digital Communication Improves Health Outcomes in Developing Nations