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Digital Health Centre of Excellence for COVID-19 Pandemic Response

By Guest Writer on May 20, 2021

digital health centre excellence

As countries are operationalizing their COVID-19 pandemic response plans, including National Deployment and Vaccination Plans for COVID-19 vaccines, the need for digital health interventions to amplify efforts to improve equitable service delivery, produce actionable data and strengthen health and immunization systems more broadly is called for.

Digital health solutions, many of which are mature and already integrated into national systems, can be expanded to provide substantial support to the COVID-19 pandemic using a health system strengthening lens, including:

  • Planning distribution of commodities and vaccines,
  • Tracking supplies,
  • Surveillance and case detection,
  • Monitoring coverage of services,
  • Communicating to generate demand and reduce misinformation.

However, countries have faced a range of challenges related to the rapid deployment of digital health tools including policy, regulatory, infrastructure, and workforce capacity deficits. The success of digital health solutions often correlates with the strength of the enabling environment for these technologies.

Critically important are country “building blocks” including readiness of IT infrastructure, workforce and institutional capacity, equity of access, the digital divide, data standards and interoperability, the policy and regulatory environment, investment strategies and governance.

Poorly designed or inappropriate digital interventions, as well as vertical approaches geared only for COVID-19, risk undermining and ultimately weakening national systems. This raises important questions, including:

  • What is the most effective way to address urgent COVID-19 needs today – in terms of vaccine management and delivery, health workforce capacity, track-and-trace, counterfeit detection, vaccine hesitancy, case surveillance and supply chain management – while investing in a long term, cross-cutting vision for health information systems?
  • How can the private sector – who often come with innovative new solutions – be most effectively engaged, while continuing to strengthen existing health systems and platforms, build resilience and country ownership, and prioritizing interventions that can be technically and financially sustained?
  • How do we ensure that vulnerable or marginalized groups, that often find themselves excluded from digital interventions or services that don’t take account socio-cultural factors, aren’t further excluded?

COVID Digital Health Centre of Excellence

To address this, UNICEF and the World Health Organization launched a multi-agency COVID Digital Health Centre of Excellence (DICE) in April, 2021. DiCE Consortium Members include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, GIZ, CDC, the European Commission, The Global Fund, FCDO, the Gavi Alliance, USAID, and the World Bank.

DICE is already supporting:

  • Donor coordination,
  • Country technical assistance for readiness assessments,
  • Development of business requirements,
  • Platform analysis,
  • Quality assurance on workplans, proposals and TORs.

All DICE support is importantly grounded on the Principles for Digital Development and the Digital Investment Principles, and aligns with the approaches advocated for by the Digital Public Goods Alliance and Digital Square.

Although the initiative is currently focused on addressing the immediate needs of the countries in the context of the COVID-19 response, the COVID DICE will also aim to fast track WHO’s Global Digital Health Strategy, thereby laying the foundation for a more comprehensive mechanism for harnessing the power of digital health technologies for overall health systems strengthening, in response to COVID-19 and beyond.

Come join us on this journey! DICE will be creating roster of on-call consultants, volunteers and partner agencies to respond to country requests. If you are interested providing consultancy services to DICE, please apply to the UNICEF digital health consultant roster before May 21, 2021.

By Sean Blaschke and Karin Källander, UNICEF

Filed Under: Featured, Healthcare
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2 Comments to “Digital Health Centre of Excellence for COVID-19 Pandemic Response”

  1. Andrew Kanter says:

    This is a great idea and I am happy to add OpenMRS, CIEL and OCL to this effort. The registration process is UNICEF standard job application which is a bit of an effort if you are simply registering interest. I might recommend also creating a separate, more easily completed Google form to register interest!

    • Karin Källander says:

      Dear Andrew,
      Thanks for your interest in supporting DICE and for the suggestion of setting up a Google form. Great idea!