From strategy to implementation: On the pathways of the continent’s youngest countries towards digital transformations in health

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As part of its research agenda, the Commission has been gathering information on approaches to digital transformation of health systems being taken around the world, particularly in countries where young people under 25 make up a substantial proportion of the population. In 2020, the Commission conducted a study on 10 African countries with young populations (Cameroon, DRC, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda) to better understand national priorities and activities for strengthening digitally-enabled health systems, barriers to implementation, and the extent to which the needs and views of young people have factored in these efforts. The findings of this study were presented at the Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) in March 2021. AHAIC is an African-led biennial global health convening hosted by Amref Health Africa. This year, the virtual conference was focused on the theme: ‘Decade for Action – Driving Momentum to Achieve UHC in Africa’. Commissioner Njide Ndili moderated the session titled ‘From strategy to implementation: On the pathways of the continent’s youngest countries towards digital transformations in health’. Christian Franz and Louise Holly from the Commission Secretariat presented the findings of the study, which was informed by a review of national digital health strategies and interviews with digital health experts from the 10 countries. The study found that every country’s strategy has a strong emphasis on strengthening integrated health information systems. In so doing, the goal is to improve data collection and use for decision-making and outline plans to use telemedicine, mHealth and/or eHealth tools to improve quality and increase service coverage, especially for underserved populations. None of the digital health strategies included in the study gave consideration to the particular needs or views of children and young people. All 10 strategies recognised the need for stronger governance of digital health and data. “Governments have the role of developing and implementing strategies. Digital health strategies become a kind of compass that helps navigate countries toward UHC, ensuring that young people who will inherit our health systems in the future are taken into account during the development of these strategies. We must then focus on how we can leverage digital technology, including mobile technology, to achieve UHC,” Ndili said. Digital health expert, Dr Ousmane Ly, and clinician and youth advocate, Dr Enow Awah Georges Stevens, shared further perspectives on why progress to implement digital health strategies is slow and why more needs to be done to involve young people in future strategy development processes. “Young people should not only be beneficiaries of programmes, but also active partakers in the development of programmes. We need to directly consult youth and ensure their voices are included in every step of design, development, implementation, and evaluation of digital health strategies,” Georges Stevens said. The study report will be published later in 2021.