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Precision Public Health: Leveraging Data to Unlock Health for All

A community health worker in Barwani, India, crouches down to measure the upper arm circumference of a young boy to determine his nutrition status. © 2013 Chelsea Hedquist, Courtesy of Photoshare

This week, as world leaders gather at the United Nations General Assembly to advance health for all, I can’t help but reflect on how far we’ve come, and how much we still must do.

The Universal Health Coverage (UHC) movement – a movement that The Rockefeller Foundation championed from its inception – has seen unprecedented momentum in recent years. This week’s High-Level Meeting on UHC is a clear indicator that people are listening and working together to drive progress.

While some countries are progressing toward health for all, many are off track to achieve that goal by 2030. Every day, thousands of children under age 5 die from conditions we know how to treat such as diarrhea and pneumonia. In addition, hundreds of mothers needlessly lose their lives from preventable pregnancy-related causes.

We need catalytic change to get back on track. I believe that data science is that catalyst – it has the power to get the right care to the right person at the right time, preventing illness and death before they occur.

At The Rockefeller Foundation, we call this Precision Public Health and we believe it has the power to unlock health for all, especially in vulnerable communities who could benefit most.

That’s why today The Rockefeller Foundation is announcing the launch of its Precision Public Health Initiative, along with an initial investment of $100 million over three years in partnership with a host of powerful collaborators: UNICEF; the World Health Organization; World Bank; GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. As a first step, we aim to save the lives of 6 million mothers and children in 10 countries by 2030.

With continued commitment and collaboration, Precision Public Health will ensure that advances in data for health are used for the good of everyone, not just the privileged few.

We envision a world where community health systems globally are equipped to apply data-driven decisions to predict and act on poor health and death before they occur, ultimately improving the health of communities around the world.

But we can’t do this alone. Over the coming years, we will convene diverse partners from global health, the tech sector, and Global South leadership to make Precision Public Health a reality. When diverse sectors work together to identify opportunities and address challenges, data’s full potential can be leveraged.

Achieving Precision Public Health also requires multifaceted data science innovations. While other initiatives have made strides by narrowly focusing on health care, they overlook broader social factors. We believe that health data should link to non-health data sources such as income, education, and access to transportation to better predict community health needs, improving the health of communities before people need to seek health care.

Precision Public Health holds promise to close the global health divide – where rich nations and communities benefit from innovations and the most vulnerable populations are left behind. With continued commitment and collaboration, Precision Public Health will ensure that advances in data for health are used for the good of everyone, not just the privileged few.

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