The use and impact of digital technologies for population health and health equity gains project

The major activity of the Global Health Equity Work group of the WFPHA has been on the preparation and production of a Special Issue of the Journal of Public Health Policy, which has been published on Nov 30, 2016
Go to: http://link.springer.com/journal/41271/37/2/suppl/page/1
The special issue brings together a series of papers that explore the utilization and impact of digital technologies in public health and/or in the enhancement or promotion of health equity.
This initiative is being carried out with support from the Aetna Foundation, and is led by James Chauvin, former president of the WFPHA, and Laetitia Rispel, Chair of the working group.

A key priority for the New Year will be to complete the special journal issue for publication, and to invite people from national public health associations to join the group. Once PHA members have expressed interest in joining the group, we plan to develop a priority list of activities, and then raise money to support the activities of the group.

More information are available in the section News & latest reports.

The Working Group

The WFPHA Equity Work Group uses the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health definitions of “equity” and “health inequities” to guide its work:

Equity is “the absence of avoidable or remediable differences among groups of people, whether those groups are defined socially, economically, demographically, or geographically”.

Health inequities “involve more than inequality with respect to health determinants, access to the resources needed to improve and maintain health or health outcomes” but also “entail a failure to avoid or overcome inequalities that infringe on fairness and human rights norms”. (WHO)

Key areas of public health that will be addressed from a life course perspective by the working group are women’s health, child health, disability and chronic conditions, education equity, income disparities, and social justice.

The Equity Work Group will do the following:

  1. develop policy statements using the best evidence available
  2. advocate for WFPHA policies using appropriate social strategies to gain political will for change and adoption of the policies
  3. provide a world-wide forum for WFPHA Members interested in health equity

The Work Group will meet annually at the WFPHA Congress and communicate electronically via the internet between meetings.

For more information, please contact Dr. Laetitia Rispel (Chair 2015-2018).

News & latest reports

The use and impact of digital technologies for population health and health equity gains

The health care system is replete with examples about the use and effectiveness of digital technologies: MRIs and other imaging technologies, eHealth cards and electronic health records, electronic diagnosis and prescriptions, and electronic access for remote and rural communities being a few. The for-profit sector uses digital technologies (DT) to shape what we buy, where we live, how we travel, what we eat, how we work (including our productivity), how and what we learn, and what we do in our spare time.  Sometimes this can be benefcial; but as we have seen, sometimes social media and its effect on attitudes and behaviors about vaccinating children and the advertising of unhealthy foods and beverages through the Internet, can have negative consequences for human health. It can as well be a disruptive technology.

A scan of the literature reveals a dearth of information about the use of DT within the public health sector and in particular its impact on population health and health equity.  References are found about the use of text messages to prompt people to follow a healthy lifestyle, the use of cell phones to provide information to front line health workers, improved inventory control of medical supplies and products, and social media to inform the public about health services. The focus tends to be on ‘personalized medicine’.

In association with the Aetna Foundation, the WFPHA undertook in 2015 an initiative to examine how DT are being used and the impact of their use on population health and health equity.  The initiative consists of three elements.  The first, which took place during a session at the 14th World Congress on Public Health, provided a glimpse into how the Aetna Foundation is supporting innovative DT-related community- based activities in the USA as well as some of the issues and challenges in using DT, especially in countries with limited resources and telecommunications infrastructure, some of the challenges of using DT for health, and a future look at DT and how it could transform health and health equity.

The second element will be the publication in mid- 2016 in the Journal of Public Health Policy of a set of six articles commissioned by the WFPHA to examine the use and impact of DT on human health and health equity in different contexts.  These open access articles will include:

- a study of the use and impact of DT on health in humanitarian crises situations;

- a study of the use and impact of DT within reproductive health services in Latin America and the Caribbean;

- an assessment of the impact of MomConnect, a mobile-phone based app designed to increase access to maternal and neonatal health services and improve the quality of such services in South Africa;

- a review of the use and impact assessment of DT on population health and health equity gains by national public health associations;

- an overview of some of the ‘DT for Health’ projects support by Aetna Foundation in the USA;

- a ‘future view’ about how digital technologies must be used to meet a some of the major global challenges to ensure that every person on earth could experience good health; and,

- an overview editorial that draws lessons from these experiences and lays out ideas as to how PHAs and the WFPHA can promote the effective use and impact assessment of DT on population health and health equity.

The third element will be the development during 2016 of a WFPHA discuss paper on the topic, to be released at the 15th World Congress in April 2017.

The articles and discussion paper will be published in the Journal of Public Health Policy.

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