Digital technology has significantly supported frontline health service providers in a variety of ways. Although this was already in motion prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, its onset triggered an accelerated uptake of working with digital solutions in hospitals, clinics and in the field. These new ways of working benefit administrative processes and access to and quality of patient care.
UNICEF's vision is to develop digitally enabled health systems within countries, so that they can effectively adopt digital solutions to prioritize reaching the most marginalized and vulnerable children, adolescents and families. These systems will provide health information and services, whilst strengthening the ability of health systems to collect, analyze, and use health data to continually improve the reach and quality of service.
The term ‘digital health’ refers to the use of digital technologies in health programming and financing. This includes both mHealth and eHealth and describes the general use of ICTs (digital, mobile and wireless) to support the achievement of health objectives. This development corresponds to the current global digital transformation and the recognition that digital services improve health outcomes and save lives.
Amongst many options, digital solutions encompass integrating health information systems into public health facilities, using real-time monitoring and analysis tools for vaccine monitoring amongst other use cases and telemedicine features, allowing for remote consultations with medical practitioners for people in hard-to-reach places. Further, strengthening health systems with digital capabilities allows us to provide better healthcare for more children, faster.
UNICEF supports governments in scaling up digital health interventions nationally - ensuring that frontline health service providers are using digital infrastructures, digital health tools and are effectively leveraging multi-stakeholder partnerships. The coming together and alignment of partners in the digital health community is essential to making efficient use of scarce resources and supporting government plans for scale and sustainability.
A flagship digital health initiative in South East Asia is real-time monitoring for immunizations. Monitoring and tracking of daily vaccine coverage and other pertinent data during supplemental immunization campaigns (SIAs) is a challenge - especially in largely populated countries like the Philippines, where reporting units across an archipelago of scattered islands need to be consolidated at the Department of Health in Manila.
UNICEF Philippines and the Department of Health piloted a digital monitoring tool containing checklists and dashboards that help governments quickly deploy real-time monitoring during immunization campaigns, enabling quick, responsive, and predictive decision-making. RT-VAMA (Real Time Vaccination Monitoring and Analysis) is now used for vaccine monitoring in the Philippines – where over 1 million children have not received a single vaccine. The Philippines is the 5th country in the world with the greatest number of unvaccinated children1. A RT-VAMA work-aid is being made available for other country contexts for accelerated and efficient immunization.
"Digital Health offers a unique opportunity to expand access to quality health care with the potential to reduce costs. UNICEF EAPRO continues to advocate for digital health to strengthen national health systems. This enables strengthened delivery of Primary Health Care services, thus contributing positively to the SDGs.”
Leveraging digital health tools and interventions can transform health care delivery in cities and rural areas and ultimately contribute to attainment of Universal Health Care and SDG-3 on Good Health and Wellbeing. Building on these successful experiences through continued application and donor support from partners such as GAVI will support the transition to digitally enabled health systems in the East Asia and Pacific Region.