Mathilde Forslund’s (Executive Director of Transform Health) reflections during Women Deliver 2023
The Women Deliver conference is in full swing in Kigali under this year’s theme, ‘Spaces, Solidarity and Solutions’. I had the opportunity to attend the three last editions of the Conference in Kuala Lumpur (2013), Copenhagen (2016) and Vancouver (2019) in various roles. The conference is one of the foremost platforms for discourse on gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women, in all their intersecting identities. While digital health typically features prominently on the agenda of the Women Deliver conference, it is not sufficiently covered in this year’s agenda. A lack of attention on the important role that digital health transformation, data-led solutions, innovation, and technology play in improving gender equity in health access and outcomes, this in my opinion, is a missed opportunity given the digital health transformation that is currently happening in the health sector at an accelerated pace, particularly the recent progress and adoption of Artificial Intelligence.
As Leila Toplic of NetHope highlighted, “AI is being used to decide everything from who gets hired, to who is offered credit and how much, to who gets access to healthcare first. What this means is, AI systems are critical to women’s participation in all sectors of society. The ability to access, use, and shape AI is essential for the future of women’s human rights.” 1
Transform Health and partners call on all organisations to play an active role in ensuring that the digital transformation of health systems is inclusive and representative of the needs and rights of girls, young people and women. We urge more organisations to join the movement and advocate for equitable digital transformation of health systems – to achieve health for all. We must make sure that girls, women and young people 1) are included in the design, use and governance of digital approaches that may affect their health and wellbeing, 2) are able to exercise the rights in relation to digital technologies and the use of their own health data, 3) are equipped to make better decisions about their personal health using real-time health information and their own, protected data.
Transform Health has been advocating for the digital transformation of health as a route to strengthening primary health care and accelerating progress towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Digital tools can improve the accessibility, affordability and quality of health services, thus presenting enormous opportunities for advancing UHC and improving health equity. Addressing gender inequalities in health access and outcomes and improving women’s and girls’ health and wellbeing are amongst such key opportunities.
Digital Health as a gender and rights’ issue
Digital technologies have immense potential to reduce gender gaps in health access and health outcomes and to overcome various barriers to care for women, girls and gender minorities. Certain gaps and challenges, however, hamper this potential.
A key challenge remains the universal access and lack of affordability of mobile internet. Across low and middle-income countries (LMICs), women are 7% less likely than men to own a mobile phone and 15% less likely to own a smartphone. A global analysis of 133 systems across industries found that 44.2% demonstrate a gender bias, and the data used to develop AI algorithms and other technologies is rarely representative of all ages, genders, ethnicities and regions. Another gap is the limited skills and confidence that women exhibited with respect to safe and secure usage of digital technologies.
By addressing such gaps and ensuring equitable, inclusive, and sustainable transformation of health systems, digital health technologies can help address gender inequalities in health by ensuring increased access to health care, safe and secure sharing of health information, improved autonomy and health decision-making, and reduced burden of unpaid healthcare workers.
Transform Health and prioritising gender and digital health
As the founding Executive Director of Transform Health, I have had the privilege over recent years to see Transform Health grow to a coalition of more than 150+ organisations committed to harnessing the potential of digital tools and data to achieve UHC by 2030. To deliver on this goal, Transform Health is intentional about the role, and needed action, around the intersection of gender and digital health. As such, we are ramping up our work on gender and digital health this year, including:
- Launching a new survey to gather perspectives of communities, organisations, health workers and other experts on the key barriers, challenges and opportunities for the digital transformation of health systems to enable greater gender equity in health and move us closer towards Health for All in the digital age.
- Co-creating positions on gender and digital health, to strengthen our work, including around our priority areas of health data governance and increased and better-coordinated digital health investment.
- Identifying key areas and opportunities where Transform Health and our partners can play a strategic role to drive progress.
We are very optimistic and excited to forge enhanced collaborations with our partners as we continue to advocate for equitable digital transformation of health systems, and the critical role that gender plays as part of this.
Join us and become a partner of the coalition today and/or get in touch with Ndifanji Namacha, Policy Manager at Transform Health ([email protected]) to learn more!
1“If AI is the future, gender equity is essential”, June 7th 2022), https://nethope.org/articles/if-ai-is-the-future-gender-equity-is-essential/#:~:text=Gender%20equitable%20AI%20is%20built%20using%20inclusive%20data,that%20I%E2%80%99ve%20been%20treated%20unfairly%20by%20an%20algorithm%3F%29