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Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Technology and Global Health: The Way Forward

November 19, 2020 · 1 Comment · Technology, Uncategorized

Technology and Global Health: The way Forward

Technology is creeping its way into every aspect of our lives. There is almost no field left untouched by the bountiful gifts’ technology has to offer. The impact of technology on global health is crucial.

Global health places priority on reducing disease burden, enhancing the quality of life, and improving health outcomes of the world population. Advancing technology has been extremely instrumental in the motto of global health. From designing health applications to telehealth, better research facilities, and improved accessibility.

The biggest boon to global health has come in the form of health apps and telehealth or mobile health. MHealth has proved to be a boon in bridging the gap between patients or parents/guardians and doctors. They serve as a great educational tool, providing post-operative instructions, and sending/receiving health updates rapidly. The best part about these apps is that they operate at the touch of a finger. Smartphones have been a part and parcel of everyday life and a large part of the world population now owns a smartphone. The biggest boost to telehealth is by way of improved connectivity. Earlier, technological barriers such as low connectivity, limited internet coverage, proved to be the biggest hurdle in adopting telehealth. With changing times, almost all urban centers and several rural centers have better connectivity, thus, helping them adopt mHealth/telehealth.

A recent article published in HealthAffairs Will Connectivity Be The Next Cure? Health Care Implications of 5G Cellular Technologies” very aptly describes better connectivity and technological advancement will better facilitate real-time sharing of data, including MRIs, prescription, treatment plans, advanced imaging information, and most importantly, haptic information (interpreting motor and sensory movements), and video/audio information and improve accessibility and provide better and faster decision making.

Another crucial technological boon is the use of drones. These drones or unmanned aerial vehicles, aid in the transportation of medical equipment, blood units, and lab samples to remote locations. This improves access and timeliness of treatment and test results.

“Four Technologies That Can Improve Global Health” published in Oxford Academic outlines some vital technological developments that aid in improving health outcomes across the globe. Some of these innovations are mHealth, health apps, and drones, as I talked about earlier. Low-cost gene sequencing is another critical tool in better identifying infectious diseases, surveillance and control, and designing future interventions. It can also help in understanding gene mutations, and drug resistance.

In addition to better and faster access to treatment, technology has also paved the way for efficient and reliable care. The ease of recording patient data and sharing it across borders instantly, real-time updates on patient health status, the provision of a centralized platform that can be accessed from anywhere across the globe, and a vast online resource of patient history is extremely instrumental in enhanced care and patient-centered care. Additionally, software for storing information about illnesses, their symptoms, causes, and medications serves as a vast database of information and knowledge available to one and all globally.

An article published in World Economic Forum “The top emerging health technologies to end this pandemic and avert the next one” describes how technological innovations might prove vital in tackling this pandemic. Virtual patients with simulations can replace humans and aid in faster clinical trials. Microneedles that provide painless injections and operate as drug delivery systems, and whole-genome synthesis that encourages researchers to design genetic sequence that could be introduced into microbes to turn into medicine-making bio-machines, are just a few examples of technological advances.

Such innovations are the need of the moment. However, an important consideration while implementing these innovations is to make sure that those reach the grassroots levels. Low- and middle-income countries would bear the maximum benefits of these advances, namely, enhanced care, better accessibility, and faster service. However, it is crucial to understand that some of the most rural centers do not have access to the simplest of the technological discoveries, which might act as a hurdle. For instance, telehealth, telemedicine, health and fitness apps, wearable devices, and health trackers are some of the most fundamental innovations, and yet not all people have access to those. The reason for this is the absence of a smartphone, language barriers, finances, resources, and most important, connectivity. Almost 45% of the world population owns a smartphone but that distribution globally is not uniform. 82% of the total population in the United Kingdom and 77% of the US population owns a smartphone. In contrast, only 35% of the South African population, 28% of the Indian population, and a mere 11% of the total population in Ethiopia own a smartphone. This hurdle is far too vital to ignore. With smartphone comes connectivity problems and the ability to understand and use a smartphone for its intended purpose.  

The article “Using Technology to Advance Global Health” does a great job of explaining how a lack of coordinated funding with government priorities, limited peer support, lack of human resource, and a dearth of low-cost easily reused technologies are severely limiting the progress of low-income countries can make in the field of health care.

Furthermore, the cost of these technologies, most of them if not all, is skyrocketing, especially when used for healthcare and treatment. This again puts the rural population and those who cannot afford care in a vulnerable position. Hence, efforts should be made to use these innovations in disease prevention and health promotion.


One Comment

  • ssanchezalvarez1

    Nice blog!! I definitely agree that we should do something about making technologies accessible to the more vulnerable populations to help with disease prevention and health promotion!

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