Overcoming eHealth challenges with social and technical innovations

January 29, 2018

Mothers wait to vaccinate their babies

Photo: Dominic Chavez / World Bank

Developing countries are increasingly turning to mobile phones and other digital technologies to improve the health and well-being of their populations. Referred to broadly as eHealth (and mHealth for tools with a strong mobile component), they have the large-scale potential to increase awareness of healthy behaviours and expand the reach of essential health services.

Ehealth can capture the needs of the people who are hardest to reach, seldom counted in statistics, and who don’t have a voice during planning. At the national level, this data can improve the timeliness and quality of reporting and the ability to feed reliable data and evidence back to communities. The potential exists to improve how health services are delivered and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals agenda of leaving no one behind.

To reach this objective, it is crucial to combine social and technical innovation: creating new ways of listening to potential beneficiaries and fostering supportive family dynamics along with more integrated, efficient, and responsive systems and platforms. This critical combination is what can lead to sustained and large-scale positive change.

Research funded by IDRC through the Strengthening Equity through Applied Research Capacity building in eHealth (SEARCH) initiative explored whether and in which circumstances eHealth can respond to key challenges to deliver quality services to everyone. The projects, in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lebanon, Peru, and Vietnam, involved local research teams working closely with community members, health providers, and decision-makers at local and national levels to examine a range of health issues, including both communicable and non-communicable diseases.

The stories in this series illustrate how these seven projects have overcome common challenges faced by eHealth programs — including gender inequality and the need to empower women.

Social and technical innovations have enabled them to:

  • Overcome distance and isolation by connecting people and health information
  • Reach those most in need
  • Build a more skilled and supported health workforce
  • Improve coordination and coherence in weak policy environments
  • Strengthen the reliability and quality of data

The following infographic demonstrates how the research transforms challenges into positive changes that are already reaching well over 250,000 people.

VIEW FULL INFOGRAPHICpreview of the infographic

Fostering future success

The SEARCH initiative’s impact goes beyond the impressive results emerging from individual projects. Collectively, the research in the seven countries has yielded valuable lessons on the use of gender analysis and innovation to tackle stubborn inequities using eHealth.

The group of projects has sparked a fruitful and lasting discussion among researchers and between researchers and policymakers about developing and implementing the best programs, supporting their sustainability, and ensuring they reach those with the greatest need.