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To Leverage Data for Health, Collaboration Is Key

Medical students at Mosoriot Health Center, Eldoret, Kenya. Photo by Jonas Bendiksen for The Rockefeller Foundation.

We live in a world steeped in predictive technologies – smart products and services use our data to guess movie selections, alert us before we’re out of groceries, and track our every heartbeat and step. These types of innovations have immense potential to tackle our global challenges in health – they could predict which mothers will have high-risk births, where to best deploy limited vaccine supplies, and identify communities that would benefit from sexual and reproductive health education.

While innovations in data are commonplace in some communities, sharing them equitably across the world is not a simple task. To move forward, collaboration is key.

Earlier this month, I moderated a panel at the Women Deliver Conference on the power of data to improve health. Panelists joined us from all corners—country government, civil society, and the private sector, and each approached the challenge from a unique angle, encouraging us to consider a range of opportunities and challenges, from program design and ethics to artificial intelligence.

Each raised key issues as we discussed data equity for health equity, but my main takeaway was that all of their diverse voices – and many more – need a seat at the table if we are to make progress.

Overcoming Biases in Data

Sema Sgaier, co-founder and director of Surgo Foundation, appealed to the group to consider the ways that we analyze both our new and existing data, making behavioral changes when necessary to drive new results:

Sema continued that collating and analyzing data must be done thoughtfully and safely, especially when we use artificial intelligence, and our discussion left me hopeful that AI may play a powerful role in closing the data equity divide.

Ensuring Widespread Access to Data Solutions

Another panelist, Dr. Githinji Gitahi, group CEO and director-general of Amref Health Africa, and co-chair of UHC2030 stressed access when using data for health:

Designing Data Systems for Equity

Throughout the afternoon, each panelist’s perspective helped shape a more inclusive and holistic strategy to leveraging data for health. Molly Canty, a project manager at Dimagi, a technology company that designs platforms for frontline health workers emphasized intentionality when laying out technical architecture for health programs:

Collecting Quality Data

Tanzanian Minister of Health, The Honorable Ummy Mwalimu, built on Molly’s point, emphasizing the importance of quality data for community health workers. Her comments reinforced our broad goal—informing and streamlining the work of frontline health workers who deliver care to the most vulnerable and often unseen, especially women and girls:

Since returning home from Vancouver, I’ve asked myself how we keep the momentum going, as we all shift back to our respective lanes. At Women Deliver, countless advocates came together toward a common objective for several days, but that same cooperation must be applied every day.

Now more than ever, when the data equity gap can widen or begin to close, we need to remember discussions like these, and use them to find our way back to working together. We must continue to form alliances with each other, especially at the country level, both with like-minded allies, and with those with different perspectives.

Systems change is difficult, but I see a path forward. The Rockefeller Foundation is committed to building on the momentum of Women Deliver to forge new, multi-sectoral partnerships and promote data equity for health.

It is through these relationships that we can deliver health to all, regardless of race, gender or wealth.

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