Innovative Solutions Strengthening Health Systems for Every Child
Localized approaches to deliver quality, accessible, and affordable health care for children and their communities
This year marks a mid-point in the 2023 Agenda. Despite over a decade of progress, the world is falling short of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals in all 17 areas – from climate action to education, inequality, poverty and health.
On health, remarkable steps have been taken to improve global outcomes. 146 out of 200 countries have met or are on track to meet the under-five mortality rate. Effective treatment has cut global deaths linked to HIV/AIDS by more than half since 2010, and at least one of the Neglected Tropical Diseases – a group of conditions that affect more than one billion people but have been overlooked by global health agendas - has been eliminated in 47 countries around the world.
But the road ahead to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all is long. Over a thousand children die daily from diseases caused by unsafe water, sanitation, and hygiene. In 2021, 25 million children missed out on critical routine immunizations, 6 million more than two years prior.
The SDGs are interconnected and complex, and require an integrated response. As a discipline focused on solving complex problems, creating new opportunities, and accelerating positive change, innovation is essential to win the SDG race. Holistic, systemic, and human-centred innovative solutions and approaches play a crucial role by offering impactful and scalable pathways to accelerate results.
As such, innovation is a strong ally in building more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive health systems for children to survive and thrive. Innovative solutions and approaches can help inclusively deliver access to healthcare services for children and their communities by tackling the root barriers and challenges in health systems – from the lack of quality and timely data for decision-making, to challenges in access to healthcare facilities and trained medical personnel for communities in remote or rural areas, to the rising cost of healthcare services for families everywhere.
Supported by UNICEF, these innovations are strengthening localized health systems to deliver quality, accessible, and affordable health care for all children and young people around the world:
- In Kenya, Neural Labs uses AI to accelerate the detection of respiratory diseases. With support from the UNICEF Venture Fund, the startup is expanding its clinical trials to new regions. “Thousands of Africans lose loved ones to preventable diseases every year. Patients in marginalized communities wait up to two weeks to receive their lab results. But two weeks is a death sentence when aggressive diseases like pneumonia can kill a child in less than 72 hours”, says Tom Kinyanjui, Neural Labs co-founder. “With this technology, we help doctors provide accurate diagnoses even before patients can get their shirts back on after an imaging procedure, making real-time diagnosis a reality.”
- In the Philippines, the digital monitoring tool Real-Time Vaccination Monitoring and Analysis (RT-VaMA) processes data to enable daily tracking of vaccine coverage focusing on reducing inequity by encouraging distribution to remote populations that ordinarily would not have access to immunization services.
- In Brazil, Portal Telemedicina created a platform for streamlining health information from fragmented and disparate data sources for faster, more reliable, and lower-cost diagnostics. The platform is designed to enable doctors to make online diagnoses, levering AI integrated layer and insights for medical providers, providing that critical window of time that can make a difference between sickness and death or a healthy, fulfilled life.
- A multi-country initiative, Oky is the first period-tracking app co-created with girls for girls. Oky offers a fun, creative, and positive way for adolescent girls to learn about their periods, featuring individualized cycle trackers and calendars, tips, and even games in which they can personalize the app design, select and unlock their avatars, and play menstrual health quizzes.
- In South Africa, Cloudline and UNICEF Namibia are implementing a medical drone delivery network to transport specimen samples, vaccines, and medical commodities from 17 local health clinics to the central laboratory in the Katima district. The initiative considers the migratory patterns of the Himbas, a nomadic tribe, while providing health services in challenging terrains.
- A similar innovation in Uruguay is bridging the gap in access to health care services and medical supplies to communities in remote areas. In a first-of-its-kind in Latin America, Dronfies Labs by CIELUM recently piloted the use of unmanned drones to transport medicines, blood samples, and donated breastmilk to and from Tacuarembó Hospital and the rural communities of Tambores, Curtina, and Ansina.
- In Kazakhstan, the USupportMe app aims to connect adolescents with free, on-demand online mental health information and counselling services via peer-volunteers, psychologists, and professional counselors trained in evidence-based practices.