Takeaways from the 2019 Global Digital Health Forum

December 13, 2019

With hundreds of attendees, speakers from around the world, and 10 presentations from Dimagi, we think it’s safe to call the 2019 Global Digital Health Forum a success.

We covered topics from national digital health strategies to open-source funding models and governance structures. It was also great to see so many of our partners present their own CommCare-based digital health projects, including MiracleFeet, IntraHealth International, and JSI.

Reflecting on the sessions and the week as a whole, our CEO and co-founder, Jonathan Jackson, found a number of things that he’s excited about and inspired by:

National Digital Health Strategies

A key theme this year was the enablement of national digital health strategies and their ability to offer structure and alignment for our industry’s funding, implementation, and technologies in-country. This felt enormously different than four or five years ago, when the main topic of conversation was around digital health “pilotitis.” We’ve already seen great progress on national strategies from this year’s Joint Declaration on Digital Health for Sustainable Development as well as initiatives like The Principles of Donor Alignment for Digital Health. ICTWorks also put out a great list of all known national eHealth strategies in Africa and will be trying to keep it up to date. We all know there is a huge amount of work and learning between setting a strategy and achieving successful outcomes, but I strongly believe that these efforts represent a significant step in the right direction.

Scale

The theme of this year’s conference was “Celebrating Innovation and Supporting Proven Practices at Scale,” and so it makes sense that we saw more systems at greater scale. It was a lot of fun sharing updates and learnings from the Ministry of Women and Child Development’s ICDS-CAS program in India, which is now in use by more than 584,316 Anganwadi workers across the country. The lessons we shared also seemed to resonate strongly with the many ministry of health representatives in attendance.

Open Source Funding and Valuation

There seems to be a real understanding that even open source systems that are at scale and reaching millions of people are not immune to unique funding challenges. It was great to see a panel of all open source technologists (ODK, CommCare, and DHIS2) speaking openly and honestly about these challenges. It was also nice to see people talking about seeing these global goods with a real dollar value. For example, USAID just published this report entitled “Software Global Goods Valuation Framework” that evaluates the “value” of three global goods (CommCare, OpenMRS, and iHRIS) using multiple methodologies. The initial report estimates that the combined replacement cost of CommCare, OpenMRS, and IHRIS would be over $100 million.

Innovative Hardware

At Dimagi, we’re very focused on the software piece of global digital health – but at GDHF, we saw examples of hardware that is emerging in the global digital health field. Our longtime partner SimPrints talked about scaling their innovative biometric devices in Ethiopia. At nearby booths, BAO Systems introduced the BAO Box to support DHIS2 instances. Students from Johns Hopkins University presented a wearable device for newborns to identify complications like fever or low temperature, difficulty breathing and lethargy, which was also fascinating. 

Celebrating Our Community

The global digital health community is truly a family, and in some ways, the Forum can feel like an annual family reunion. I enjoyed taking the time to remember members of our community that we lost this past year, including Dr. Marc Mitchell who founded D-Tree and was a close friend to many of us in Dimagi. You can learn more about Dr. Mitchell’s life here in this article in the Boston Globe as well as in a note that a few members of our team wrote.

See you next year!

The Global Digital Health Ecosystem is scaling and maturing fast, and it’s exciting to be a part of it.  With the industry clearly moving from pilot to national-scale programs, many of these national strategies will take 10 years to realize. At Dimagi, we are looking forward to keeping the momentum up to make sure that over the next few years we are both laying down the core foundational technologies and driving new innovations in data collection, data use, and service delivery. Keep in touch to see how we thread that needle!

Written by
Jonathan Jackson

Founder & Chief Executive Officer

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