Digital communications and media are now part of everyday life for many people around the world. But while people have turned to smartphones for entertainment, socializing and commerce, the health community is still working to make services, outreach and treatment digitally accessible. Examining successful applications allows us to understand what approaches might be possible for digital health services. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more crucial than ever that digital health resources provide support for people to access from their homes.
The development community is in love with the idea of innovation as a way to accelerate positive change. But are innovation and disruption always positive? What are the unintended consequences from our drive to innovate?
An Interview with
Josh Woodard, Regional ICT and Digital Finance Advisor, Asia Pacific, FHI 360
Digital technology offers promising ways to solve some of the world’s development challenges. At FHI 360, we are applying new and existing technologies to build resilience among the communities where we work.
What is technology for resilience?
Let’s look at what we mean by resilience. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) defines it as “ the ability of people, households, communities, countries and systems to mitigate, adapt to and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth.”
Recently, we’ve been using The Rockefeller Foundation’s definition: “Resilience is the capacity of individuals, communities and systems to survive, adapt and grow in the face of stress and shocks, and even transform when conditions require it.”
Imagine the following scenario: It’s payday and you want to pick up your salary. But first, you have to navigate a series of deteriorating, hazardous dirt roads to get to the bank. It takes you a few days just to talk to a teller. When you finally do, the teller informs you that the bank is currently out of cash – you’ll have to wait some more. By the time you actually get paid, you’ve had to miss several days of work – and to top it all off, between bank fees (including bribes or unofficial fees to bankers and security guards), the cost of lodging, travel and food, you’ve spent 15 percent of your salary just to pick it up.
Much has been written about the gender gap in mobile phone usage, specifically on why women are less likely to have access to this technology than men; why women are less likely to be technically literate than men; and why women are less likely to be aware of the many potential benefits of a mobile phone. We recognize that there is a gender gap, as high as 38 percent in South Asia. Within the development community, there is no disagreement that this digital gender divide needs to be addressed in order to drive women’s economic empowerment and ensure a more equitable future. However, there are varying points of view on how to close this gap.
Connectivity transforms lives. Access to a mobile network, including the internet or a mobile phone, opens the door to information, and information enables people to discover their full potential. Without connectivity, people are in the dark, closed off from opportunity. Yet, more than 4 billion people remain unconnected to the internet, and 20 to 40 percent of the poorest billion people are out of reach of even very basic mobile networks. Many of these people live in remote, hard-to-reach locations. And, each person among the poorest billion has only US$2.25 per month to spend on mobile services.
Reaching isolated, impoverished communities is not easy. It takes a clear understanding of context and demand. New mapping tools, like the mAccess Diagnostic Tool that maps connectivity, are helping governments, private-sector companies, and nongovernmental organizations understand the context of those who are out of reach of mobile networks. These tools are shedding light on the affected areas and are helping us visualize network coverage areas, prices for services, local incomes and the numbers of individuals who are mobile subscribers. In-depth research is emerging to fill out the picture by showing who among the poorest uses phones, for what purposes, and when and where.
Now, more than ever, is a time to stand up for science. The U.S. administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 calls for severe cuts to several key science-generating institutions, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These cuts would result in a deterioration of the science that has allowed the United States to be the global leader in medicine, public health and environmental science. They would also stall progress in global development, an area which has benefited greatly from the many lifesaving solutions produced through science.
Given the administration’s apparent disregard for science, we should take a step back and ask ourselves what may seem like a simple question: What is science and why does it matter? Of the many definitions, the most basic is the standard dictionary definition: a systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular matter. More importantly though, science is a process or way of thinking that seeks to reveal the “truth.” Not knowing the truth about something is like driving through a heavy fog. Science can cut through this fog and reveal the truth.
We live in an increasingly volatile and uncertain world. The risks to much of the world’s population that stem from climatic, political and economic fluctuations have played out again and again in recent years. While emergency response and humanitarian aid still have an important role to play, the development community is increasingly interested in how to build the resilience of individuals, communities and systems not only to survive these shocks and stresses, but also to adapt to them and better prepare for future occurrences.
There is no single solution for building resilience, as it is highly dependent on the population in question, the risks they face, local infrastructure and resources, and a number of other factors. However, one tool that has the potential to facilitate increased resilience across a range of contexts is digital technology.