The Panel was chaired by Sofia Widén from PharmAccess and included Dr Veronica Winter, Director-General of Kwara State Hospital Management Board (Nigeria); Bonifacia Agyei, Country Manager, SafeCare (Ghana); Aaltje de Roos, Senior Policy Advisor, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Christoph Castellaz Business Leader Primary/Community Care Philips and Cees Hesp, Director mHealth Research Labs, PharmAccess Group.
A dominant theme in the discussion was the need to be better connected to improve the health ecosystem. Christoph Castellaz captured the Philips experience of applying technology to resource poor settings, warning that “You can have the most beautiful application but if there’s no connectivity it will not work.’’ For a health system to work the right physical infrastructure needs to be in place (such as electricity and water). Crucially, the right partners from both the public and private sectors also need to work together to pool efforts and resources. This is when innovation in terms of investment and financing options can really happen.
We also need to capitalize on the right physical technology to help scale up access and ensure quality in service delivery. In Nigeria, Dr Veronica Winter identified a historical problem with manual and costly insurance systems that were hard to scale up. Bonifacia Agyei noted that in Ghana there was an urgent need for improved quality. Both asserted that digital technology was the solution – through technology we can exchange money and insurance, collect data, report outcomes, certify quality (through new standards like SafeCare) and build business cases for further investment
Crucially, technology can also speak directly to the people who are normally hardest to reach. Once a mobile phone is connected to a digital health platform like M-TIBA, a person can access care through specifically assigned funds. Aaltje de Roos, points to the truly empowering nature of this development because for a woman, it provides her with the ‘‘entitlement to a good quality system’’ that she alone has access to. This equates to an efficient side stepping of the types of bottlenecks that Dr Winter described in Nigeria, whereby health workers had previously gone through traditional male leaders. This system works in practice, Cees Hesp spoke of interviews on the experience with M-Tiba in Kenya, “We asked why they liked the mobile health wallet so much – they said ‘it keeps the money from my husband!”. Despite the big opportunities that technologies can bring, not everyone is benefiting equally. There is a gender gap in terms of ICT access and use, with women and girls at the bottom of the economic pyramid being disproportionally affected. According to Cees Hesp, software needs to be developed that suits women so they can make full use of the technology and find relevant content.
There is no doubt that the impact of technology on women’s healthcare is potentially huge. As the situation evolves the panel noted that the next key challenge will be how best to pool expenses system-wide and ensure sustainability.
You can listen to the panel podcast here!
From left to right: Aaltje de Roos, Dr Veronica Winter, Bonifacia Agyei, Christoph Castellaz and Cees Hesp.