Reflections from the 2016 Global Digital Health Forum: Partnerships and Trust

Amanda Puckett BenDor

IntraHealth International | Technical Advisor, HRH and Knowledge Management
In Brebes, Central Java, Indonesia, a village-level family planning volunteer, or cadre, plays a quiz game as part of a new mobile application for family planning.

In Brebes, Central Java, Indonesia, a village-level family planning volunteer, or cadre, plays a quiz game as part of a new mobile application for family planning. © 2016 Radha Rajan, Courtesy of Photoshare

The 2016 Global Digital Health Forum brought together over 425 collaborators working in global digital health. What struck me this year is how our community is committed to working together to apply the 9 Principles of Digital Development and implement digital tools and systems to improve health. As we further explore interoperability and building on existing tools, we must partner to leapfrog over obstacles. The private sector, NGOs, ministries, and individuals are developing new relationships and partnerships to move the dial forward in global digital health.

The theme of partnerships was explored during a fireside chat Tuesday, December 13th. The moderator, Skye Gilbert from PATH, invited participants to join Marc Abbyad from Medic Mobile, Meredith Baker from VaxTrac, and Sebastian Manhart from Simprints Technology in an open discussion about what brings people together in our field and how we leverage resources towards a common goal. I was struck by the honesty and openness of the session, where the speakers highlighted what is working well in our digital health partnerships and where we struggle.

The most salient point of the conversation was around trust. Sebastian said not only do we have to be aware of what others are doing in our field, but we need to leverage their work, be transparent, and create trust. “We need to be candid,” he said. “We need to figure out sustainability and profit-sharing in the background and focus on making the programs work for the countries we are supporting.” Putting our egos aside and figuring out who should be doing what can be hard, but isn’t this the crux of partnership—working together towards a common goal?

Some of the challenges we face are not new, including barriers based on procurement and funding streams as well as just not knowing who is doing what. However, new tools and ways of working are emerging to help us. Marc said that creating Venn diagrams to visualize integration and partnership is one way to use and re-use tools, as well as share and learn together. This can also help us be aware of tools for partnerships down the road. The OpenHIE platform was also highlighted as a way of making collaboration and partnerships more feasible in terms of health information systems. The OpenHIE community is extremely participatory and committed to integrating information across health information.

As we move into 2017, I look forward to continuing to engage with global digital health implementers, further building trust and contributing to more meaningful partnerships. I’m inspired by the conversations from the Global Digital Health Forum and feel we are on the right track.