About the Working group

The WFPHA Global Health Equity and Digital Technology (GHE/DT) working group uses the terms “equity” and “health inequities” as defined by the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health 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)

Digital Technology pertains to “the use of information and communication technologies to improve health outcomes of a specific population whilst at the same time maintaining equity”

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

The objectives of the GHE/DT working group are 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 global forum for WFPHA Members interested in health equity and digital technology.
  4. Advance knowledge and research on issues related to health equity and digital technology.

The working group meets annually at the WFPHA business meeting in Geneva, and during the World Congresses on Public Health.  Throughout the year, the working group communicates via emails and conference calls (3 - 4 times a year).


Co-chairs (2017 – 2020):

Stefan Buttigieg

Vina HuLamm

Follow and engage with us on Twitter: @GHEDigTec_WFPHA 

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

In November 2016, the Global Health Equity and Digital Technology (GHE/DT) working group of the WFPHA produced a special issue of the Journal of Public Health Policy (http://link.springer.com/journal/41271/37/2/suppl/page/1).

The special issue assembled a series of papers that explored how digital technologies are utilized and their impact on public health, especially in the areas of enhancing or promoting health equity. The initiative was carried out with the support of the Aetna Foundation, and was co-led by James Chauvin, former President of the WFPHA, and Laetitia Rispel, former Chair of the working group.

News and the latest updates

To read the working group’s annual reports:



Presentation of Activities May 2019

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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