Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Student Reflections on Topics Covered in our Class

Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

TECHNOLOGY: The Future of Global Health

November 16, 2020 · No Comments · Technology, Uncategorized

The present day seize no boundaries when it comes to connectivity, collaborations, socializing and network building. This was and is still evident while we all are managing to cope with the so called “unprecedented” time (COVID-19 Pandemic) experienced globally. The technological advancements helped to manage and detect (efficiently or not is the topic of discussion for another time) the spread of the deadly virus (SARs Cov 2). The public health departments were able to remotely contact trace individuals that might have been exposed or carriers of the coronavirus. Along with contact tracing, the health departments and federal governments were able to promote safe procedures and protocols to the cases (individuals that tested positive for covid-19) regarding self-isolation and quarantine guidelines. Similarly, technological advancements have proved to be a great tool in promoting safety, health, and well-being globally for over a decade now. Use of technology and innovation to improve global health is an advancing topic which has infinite potential for capacity building especially in developing countries.

What is Global Health?

The recent spread of infectious diseases such as Ebola, SARS, HIV/AIDS and the most recent SARS-Cov 2 across continents, Global Health has gained considerable attention. But what exactly is Global Health? The most acceptable definition of global health is based on the foundation of justice and human rights and defines it as “an area for study, research, and practice that places a priority on improving health and achieving equity in health for all people worldwide.” With increased globalization, the spread of infectious diseases has also increased. People travel from one country to other more frequently than before and this results in transfer of viruses from one place to other. The governments of some countries are not well-equipped and prepared to handle the spread of diseases all by themselves and therefore, governments of different countries come together to aid in tackling the spread of such diseases. However, global health is not limited to the spread of infectious diseases but also includes food patterns and cultures that contribute towards the increased burden of Non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart diseases and types of cancers. Global Health also pertains to girl’s education, women empowerment, reducing poverty etc. which leads to lower child mortality rates, enables individuals to provide for basic needs such as provide food, housing, education, and health services for themselves and their families. In addition, it also includes exchange and flow of goods, money, technology, knowledge, and services that promote better health and well-being. Global health takes into consideration the social, cultural, economic, political, environmental, behavioral, and biological factors that affect the health of an individual and tries to collaborate with stakeholders from across countries and of different sectors to develop solutions for increasing health equity.

Technology in Global Health

When it comes to global health and considering the entire globe as one single community, it sometimes become difficult to reach to different places at the same time. However, the technological advancements have worked as an important tool to reduce these limitations. Even though the world is progressing, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and its emphasis to reduce child mortality and maternal mortality, end poverty and spread of non-communicable diseases along with reducing spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS etc. especially in developing nations show the disproportionate burden of challenges and economic prosperity these low- and middle- income countries experience. Digital solutions can increase progress towards better health outcomes in low- and middle-income countries through speed and reach, while increasing access to goods and services in a more people-centric, affordable, and sustainable way. The technological advancement can help to train and coach health care workers (remotely or via phone) and thereby improve quality of care in rural settings or hard to reach areas. This will also help to reduce unnecessary referrals to the hospitals and improve efficiency. Patients that require immediate care can be served by the local health care providers/workers after digital trainings so that long, bumpy travels of hours to the hospital can be avoided by ailing patients (especially pregnant women during labor or older patients who are bedridden). Moreover, technology can not only help in expanding access but also be help in empowering patients, through education and knowledge, in taking responsibility and management of their own health. Therefore, technological advancement and the digitized sector can be used to reduce inefficiencies, improve access, reduce costs, increase quality, and personalize care under the global health umbrella.

Technology as the Future of Global Health

Owing to the current transformation and development in health care systems and care models through advanced technology and digital health incorporation, the day is not far when technology and health care will be inseparable like two sides of a coin. Digital health has changed the balance of power between provider and patient by enabling new models of care and shifting the focus of health systems toward client-centered health care, especially within low- and middle-income countries. Currently, the health care models run top-down where doctors and nurses at the top of the pyramid and patients at the bottom. However, this model fails to meet the growing needs of the population who want more convenience, better information, and better access to care where and when they want it. Just as taxi and hotel businesses have experienced disruptions by Uber and Airbnb and other commercial businesses by sales on Amazon and Alibaba, Health care is experiencing a similar trend due to access to digital technology. The use and easy accessibility to smartphones has immensely shifted the power balance from traditional vendors to the new digital models where services are made more accessible and more flexible depending on the needs of the consumers. For example, in healthcare, medical information is available online or through telemedicine and medicines can be delivered to homes through online pharmacies. Patients have access to their own medical records and may communicate with their providers using email or online portals rather than needing to visit a facility. Access no longer means physical access; for many purposes, it can mean virtual access through telecommunications. In high-income countries, these changes are being driven by the need to lower (or at least limit growth of) costs, whereas in low-income countries the driver is the poor access and quality of the care that is delivered and the explosion in access to digital technology. We all experienced this during the Covid-19 lockdowns. However, just with any innovation, growth of digital health also brings along many challenges including who owns, controls, and manages the data being collected and how to maintain privacy and confidentiality in this data-rich world (but that is a topic for another discussion).


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