Collaboration crucial in global digital transformation

June 6, 2024

Alain Labrique, Director of the Department of Digital Health and Innovation at WHO, spent the first ten years of his career in Bangladesh. There, he was confronted daily with the harsh reality that many women and children died unnecessarily, simply because there was no access to existing digital applications. In an interview with ICT&health, Labrique explains how he is dedicating the rest of his life to improving this situation and why he believes we should be prepared to share our successes worldwide.

The Department of Digital Health and Innovation, established in 2019 just before the Covid pandemic, aims to improve global healthcare by leveraging technology. This department builds on twenty years of WHO experience in supporting countries with technology and information and communication technology.

"Over the years, the definition and meaning of digital healthcare have evolved," says Labrique. "Initially, it was limited to techniques such as video consultation, telemedicine, and e-health, which were developed relatively independently of each other. Now we have concluded that all of this falls under the umbrella of Digital Health."

From experiment to transformation

For Labrique, the main challenge is enabling the transition from digital experimentation to digital transformation for various stakeholders, including financiers and policymakers. It is also crucial for people on the ground to understand that sustainability is not about small-scale 'vertical' solutions, but about building a coherent ecosystem.

"It is particularly crucial that governments and financiers invest in institutions that monitor, track, and stimulate the necessary digital transformation," emphasizes Labrique. "Currently, many countries work with a digital health strategy or blueprint, but there is no agency within the government that takes charge and is responsible for the digital transformation."

Building trust

Labrique believes that the step towards digital transformation in healthcare is a logical and necessary evolution. "To develop further and meet practical demands, you must experiment. From experimenting, you can prove that something works and build trust. In 2019, the WHO published the first evidence-based guidelines for digital health interventions. It was the first time the WHO made recommendations to countries regarding their digital strategy, substantiated with strong evidence-based arguments, such as the recommendation to use video consulting."

Read the entire interview with Alain Labrique in ICT&health 3, which will be published on June 14. Or watch Labrique's keynote which he gave during the ICT&health World Conference last May.