Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Student Reflections on Topics Covered in our Class

Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Tech Tackling Global Health

April 16, 2021 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Across the past few years, technological advancements have arguably improved every aspect of modern life. Most of these improvements have been reflected in enhanced quality of life in high-income countries, but today, I would like to focus on how technology has benefited low- and middle-income nations, particularly in relation to health. The World Health Organization notes that health technologies play a critical role in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness and disease. In developing nations, there are numerous barriers to access and application of technology, but incredible potential. In Global Health 101, Skolnik notes numerous opportunities for applied science and technology to not only improve health, but also reduce costs for treatment and prevention efforts, advance knowledge and other indirect benefits.


Measuring health status has been a global health challenge that technology is prime to address. Advancements in virtual reality (VR) technology have created a space for people to share experiences that they might never have to chance to otherwise. When applied to global health, these experiences can be incredibly informative. In 2019, Dr. Monica Swahn used VR and GoPro cameras to create immersive environments to demonstrate alcohol ads and outlets in Kampala slums (Swahn GoGlobal 360, 2020). (Link to a YouTube video of Dr. Swahn’s VR program in action). Programs such as this one provide context that words on a page simply cannot convey. Dr. Swahn was clearly ahead of the curve on acknowledging and embracing the virtual environments that the whole world has found itself navigating due to the COVID-19 pandemic limiting in-person interactions. Beyond Dr. Swahn’s work, I feel that this is just scratching the surface of possibilities for virtual reality and global health. VR technology could be applied to other aspects health professional training where physical recreations are not viable or efficient. In some medical schools, surgeons are now being trained via virtual and augmented reality equipment, allowing for countless attempts under varying conditions (Barad).

Technology can also be an invaluable tool for communication, monitoring and surveillance, as technological advancements that provide communities in developing countries with electricity and phone lines for rapid sharing of information. The rapid growth of mHealth (mobile health) has transformed the health technology landscape as over 90% of the world is now covered by a mobile network and 83% of WHO member countries now have mHealth programs (Kallander, 2013). We are spoiled with the ubiquity of the internet here in the United States, but telehealth services connecting individuals to health services and visa versa has already had a profound impact on global health.

In conclusion, I am a huge advocate for health-related technological advancements whether they be identified through push or pull mechanisms, so long as they can be used as tools to reduce disease burden. In my own work, I’ve been working on teams to identify ways that machine learning can better inform drug overdose trends with computational technology that would have been the stuff of science fiction less than a decade ago. I salute all those who continue to push humanity forward, even when it seems like society is doing everything it can to resist progress.

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