New ‘Lab’ Aims to Leverage Digital Tools for Health Policy Making
Global Health Policy Lab launch event on 24 May, 2023 in Geneva
Global Health Policy Lab launch event on 24 May, 2023 in Geneva

A new collaboration called the “Global Health Policy Lab” (GHPL) aims to develop digital tools that strengthen the available global capacity to identify, benchmark, disseminate and assess the impact of relevant health laws and policies within the field of global health.

The lab, a partnership between the Harvard Health Systems Innovation Lab and the Charité Center for Global Health was announced on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly in Geneva last month. The partners will work to make science and evidence-based policy-making a “universal reality,” they said, with the end goal of improving access and quality of care across the globe.

“Policy design is painful, but policy implementation is even more painful,” said Dr. Rifat Atun, Director of the Harvard Health Systems Innovation Lab at Harvard School of Public Health. “We are therefore committed to innovate on how these challenges are addressed: with rigorous learning and collaboration, democratization and dissemination through machine learning and AI.”

Part of the collaboration will include building an accessible “Digital Repositorium” of health laws and policies, which will be disseminated through a yearly report that includes analysis of health policy trends, challenges, opportunities and threats.

Foundational to the lab is digitalization and use of new technologies to drive better care.

Digital Health Aim of WHO Since 2020

The World Health Organization set a Global Strategy on Digital Health in 2020 at the World Health Assembly. WHO’s vision is “for digital health to be supportive of equitable and universal access to quality health services,” the organization said.

The WHO program includes three critical objectives:

1 – Supporting the implementation of digital solution to inform medical decision making.

2 – To bring together experts around the world via digital communication to share best practices and knowledge.

3 – Linking countries with the specific health innovations that best meet their needs.

Similarly, according to Ricardo Baptista Leite, founding chair of the initiative, “We will harness the power of technology to foster innovation and knowledge that ultimately provides policy makers at all levels (multilateral, national, state, regional and local) with tools and competencies capable of accelerating the translation of science-based recommendations into concrete laws, policies, awareness campaigns and other political interventions that ultimately can contribute to a healthier population at a global scale.”

He said GHPL plans to play a “differentiating and disruptive role in how data and science
effectively translate into new approaches and solutions that lead to improved health
outcomes for all.”

AI: Challenges and Opportunities

On the other hand, some doctors and scientists have identified challenges to using AI in healthcare and health policy making. A paper published this year in the peer-reviewed journal Biomed Matter Devices highlighted the drawbacks of artificial intelligence and their potential solutions in the healthcare sector. Included in the list of obstacles is data collecting, technological development, clinical application and ethical and societal concerns.

The GHPL is supported by the Virchow Foundation for Global Health by providing the legal and collaborative framework for the initiative. The World Health Summit with its conference and activity platform is also a project partner.

“The gap in the translation between scientific knowledge, on one hand, and political action,
on the other hand, is still weak and leaves a lot to do,” said Dr. Axel Pries, President of the World Health Summit. “Science is inherently global, and governments on a national level have to work together much more to address these broad challenges. We believe this initiative will highly contribute to this goal.”

Image Credits: Courtesy Global Health Policy Lab.

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