The Global Digital Health Forum: A Perfect Fit
The Global Digital Health Forum 2016 was a perfect fit for me. It was a space where I met many practitioners working in the global health environment, more so than in previous meetings. The Forum provided a supportive professional environment to discuss similar challenges and opportunities between people and organizations working in the area of technology for health.
The opening keynote, which featured leaders from the USAID Development Lab, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Merck for Mothers, gave me an indication of the future of global health and the funding opportunities available for digital health intervention. It also provided a unique window into the thinking of donors. I found the session useful, as I learned a great deal about international organizations and partners’ strategies to actively support the use of digital health in their work.
There were many sessions to choose from. I would have loved to participate in all of them, especially the practical sessions that touched on topics like data visualization, national eHealth systems, and performance support.
In no time, I had to present my demo at the Open Source EMRs session. The session was interactive, with a lot of great audience contribution via useful questions and suggestions. Sam Wambugu demonstrated the importance of leadership, as he took it upon himself to ensure that our session was hitch-free and well-coordinated. The Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) team also had a presentation about their dashboard, showcasing family planning early stage information systems strengthening across five countries. It was helpful to hear shared experiences across projects utilizing technologies like these.
The session on experiencing the shared value that social media brings to public health showcased some creative ways one could use Facebook in routine interventions. I can see using this in my work. I got excited when a Nigerian case study was also presented—that was the patriotic side of me. Go Naija!!!
There were a number of sessions focused on Human-Centred and User-Centred Design. I was able to learn some vital tips on conceptualizing and designing digital health solutions with the end users in mind.
The session on Client-side Support Tools: SMS + Mass and Mid Media to Enrich Engagement was quite dramatic. It highlighted how interventions could consolidate traditional media and digital health to reach all levels of their audience. The presenters were effective and illustrative about their work.
During the Appy Hour, a hands-on technology showcase/happy hour, innovative tools from across the globe were showcased by organizations including Pathfinder, IntraHealth, Qualcomm, and Medic Mobile. I had a short virtual-reality video tour of the Morocco maternal experience via mobile ultrasound imaging, which Qualcomm is using to help pregnant women. A hands-on demo of Pathfinder’s GIS-enabled Electronic Compliance Monitoring System was another highlight.
On the final day, various speakers shared lessons learned on taking digital health intervention to scale. The DHIS 2 session stood out to me, as different organizations like IRC, Jhpiego, Abt Associates, and BAO Systems presented their use case scenarios.
Lastly, the Nigerian contingent presented the new National Health ICT Framework as well as the Nigeria National Digital Health Coordination Roadmap. It was a highly engaging session that led to seeding ideas for an African Digital Health ecosystem to champion cross-border coordination and collaboration of digital health interventions (taking cues from the AeHIN, a similar network based in Asia).
On a lighter note, I was able to save about two lives by joining the Connect2Health Activity Challenge via Calorie Cloud, a marketing idea that tracks user data for a certain time to fund therapeutic food for severely malnourished children. The Challenge is supported by the conference co-organizers, the Personal Connected Health Alliance (PCHA). Once you have the mobile app installed on a device, the more active you get, the more calories you burn, and the more food packs you generate for malnourished children.
During future conferences, I would suggest scheduling complementary sessions after each other instead of concurrently to allow participants interested in a special area to consolidate their experience from one session to the next. Also, materials for the various sessions should be made available on the event portal immediately post-conference.
My experience at the Global Digital Health Forum was positive and invaluable. I remain forever grateful for the organizers, especially for sponsoring my participation, and the privilege of sharing my work with such a choice selection of experts in the field. Particularly, I want to thank Heidi Good Boncana, Bonni Knight, and my colleague Sherri Haas, who made my participation and logistics possible. Their hospitality is indescribable.