Perceptive readers may notice that the Nugget alternates between a corporate and a philanthropy edition. Subscribers are almost equally weighted, reflecting Vital Wave’s business-oriented development approach and its client base of foundations, international development agencies, and technology and pharmaceutical companies. While these organizations sponsor most of the work that we do, often it is governments that are the ‘end user’ or major beneficiary of it. This edition of the Nugget speaks more directly to government officials, though the messages will also resonate with those who work closely with them. It draws on insights from a report co-developed by Vital Wave, Digital Health: A Call for Government Leadership and Cooperation between ICT and Health, recently released by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, in partnership with the Novartis Foundation and Nokia.
The report offers practical guidance on how to foster sustained, high-level government engagement and leadership to support a strong digital health ecosystem. WHO reports that 73 of its member states (or 63%) have defined national digital health strategies and corresponding implementation plans. But there are many challenges to implementation, including the complexity of coordinating the diverse set of players required in any setting. Drawing lessons from twenty countries around the world, including eight in-depth case studies, the report suggests that governments don’t have to develop and manage every digital health system, but they do need to play a leading role in creating a vision and digital architecture that NGOs, private-sector companies, and public-sector agencies can plug into. When that vision is championed by a senior government leader (i.e. a President or Prime Minister) it does wonders for cross-ministerial collaborations and sets the tone for everyone else. Governments are also urged to create appropriate governance and accountability structures for their digital health initiatives to help foster an enabling environment for the scale-up of promising programs and solutions.
What are the benefits to governments if they follow the examples of successful implementation described in the report? Increasing the participation of the private sector and the capacity it brings in digital development implementations is one. Private companies are more likely to get involved in an open, productive, and helpful way if the health system is built around a transparent, officially promoted architecture. If good governance and coordinated project management come from within, and from the top, the benefit is manifold. The active engagement of partners across the private, public, and development sectors will lead to a complementary set of skills and resources, resulting in more successful and scalable digital health implementations.