Leveraging Technology to Support Healthcare for Women and Girls
Women deliver… and so much more than babies.” – Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver
Iversen kicked off the 4th Global Women Deliver Conference with these words, which were met by a thunderous applause. The sentiment inspired by her words permeated three days of discussion among nearly 5,600 health experts and advocates from over 160 countries.
I had the opportunity to attend Women Deliver in Copenhagen on behalf of Dimagi South Africa to learn more about how the agenda for girls’ and women’s health and rights has progressed, and how technology solutions can be leveraged to further support that progression. Three topics in particular struck me as requiring further thought from a technology perspective: task shifting/sharing among health providers, integration across program areas, and data gaps.
1. The Evolving Role of the Community Health Worker: the case for task-sharing and task-shifting
Whether you are a doctor at a high-volume health facility in Nairobi or a midwife on the northern shores of Lake Malawi, as changes to health protocols are implemented, your responsibilities may increase. This, in turn, impacts the care provided to girls and women. In order to protect health workers’ workloads and improve access to care, many countries and programs have been utilizing task-shifting or task-sharing. Empowering community health workers (CHWs) to perform tasks that in the past were performed by facility-based health care professionals can help relieve some of the pressure from over-burdened health facilities and provide more direct, consistent care in communities.
For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) hosted a session on how task-sharing has enabled several countries, including Nepal, Ethiopia, and Colombia, to expand the role of health workers in the provision of safe abortion care and post-abortion contraception. This task-sharing has, in many cases, directly impacted CHWs, who may now be stocked with Misoprostol to assist in safe abortion care or injectable contraceptives as part of post-abortion care and family planning.
From a practical application standpoint, this transition in roles should inform how we approach app building. Given that CHWs are the largest users of Dimagi’s software, CommCare, there needs to be deliberate thought in how our technology can better facilitate their expanding roles. In what ways can CommCare, for example, be leveraged to help CHWs maintain their increased responsibilities in the provision of medicine traditionally maintained by doctors and pharmacists? These are questions we must consider as mHealth consultants.
2. Cross-Sector Solutions: designing integrated programs across the continuum of care
Women Deliver 2016 placed a spotlight on the need for health sectors and their programs to think more strategically in developing creative, cross-sector solutions. For example, several organizations at Women Deliver shared their experiences in integrating menstrual hygiene management with family planning services for adolescents, or how the provision of ARTs for women living with HIV provides a good platform for nutrition and family planning counseling.
As programs increasingly focus on cross-sector solutions, Dimagi is working to ensure our technology is built to support the higher patient loads and increasingly complex workflows. We have already begun seeing these patterns in a number of our projects across sub-Saharan Africa, and will continue to be engaged in identifying best practices to support more holistic solutions through design patterns focused on interoperability and lateral expansion.
3. Better Data for Better Programs: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announces a major investment
Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a keynote speaker at the conference, announced that over the next three years the Foundation will be investing $80 million into “closing the gender data gap.” Gates highlighted that while the international development community has worked hard to put women and girls at the center of the global agenda, thereby “giving a voice to the voiceless,” we still need better data to help us “make the invisible, visible.” Only by learning more about the realities on the ground can we move forward with better investments and better programs that put women and girls at the center of their own empowerment.
For years, Dimagi has enabled partners to gain unprecedented access to real-time data through the CommCare platform. Now, it is time to think strategically about how we will push this a step further. We must focus on how we can leverage this data for improved program design and, ultimately, improved health outcomes for women and their families. Through work with our partners, Dimagi is identifying thoughtful ways to present that data to support action.
The most invigorating aspect of not only the above elements, but the conference as whole, was unquestionably the liveliness that fed into all of the discussions. The energy inspired by Katja Iversen’s comment in her opening remarks — that women deliver not only babies, but that they also drive their own education, health, and empowerment— was palpable throughout the week. It has incentivized me to think more critically about what my role and what Dimagi’s role needs to be moving forward. As the agenda driven by girls and women evolves, so too must our solutions.
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