Women Health Workers As Designers And Innovators Of Digital Health Technologies
Women health workers in LMICs are often the targets for research but are rarely part of the decision-making process, Dhatt says.

Women must be exposed to digital technology as both users and innovators – in order to fashion and expand AI designs that meet the needs of hard-to-reach populations, said experts at a Geneva Health Forum.

Speaking at the session ‘How Can The World Advance Towards AI Maturity In Health?’ on Monday, Roopa Dhatt, executive director of the Women in Global Health network, noted that only 12% of people in AI research are women.

And while women health workers in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are the majority of front-line care givers and thus the target of many AI research solutions, they are “rarely part of the design or decisions”.

Roopa Dhatt, executive director of the Women in Global Health.

“We hear about human-centred design, but how often are we making sure the creators are people of diverse backgrounds?” Dhatt asked, whose network aims to advance gender equity in the health sector. She added: “We need to hardwire diversity and equity in all of our aspects of innovation.

“So the first thing is making sure that we have people from diverse backgrounds.”

The concern, she said, is that if “100% of the talent pool in health isn’t engaging, you are not going to get the best results”.

There is a similar disconnect between AI research goals and the prevailing levels of digital literacy among women. Globally, some 1 billion women do not currently have access to digital mobile technology, with a large majority of these women living in LMICs.

“That’s a pretty large number,” she added. “To say that you’re going to work on achieving universal coverage and health equity when a billion of the world’s population does not even have access to digital technology.”

Half of women’s contributions to global health remains unpaid.

The gender gap in health sector leadership is another link in the broken chain of digital transformation, she added, noting that around 70% of the global health workforce are women, but less than 25% of leadership roles are occupied by women. In addition, half of women’s contribution to global health remains unpaid.

Country Context Also Critical To Appropriate Research

“When it comes to digital specifically, it’s really important to understand what the context is,” said Kanishka Katara, Head of Digital Health (India) at PATH: a French-based non-profit that helps countries develop and scale digital technologies in health systems.

Kanishka Katara, Head of Digital Health (India) at PATH

Katara flagged, as an example, that countries have diverse responses based on the context of their national local health systems and health burden – which varies enormously, country to country.

“Issues from one place to another, even though they might appear to be the same, are very different,” he said. “We need more contextual, localised solutions for that.”

The Geneva Health Forum runs from 16-18 November. Follow Health Policy Watch’s coverage here and on Twitter.




Image Credits: WHO/UNITAID, Flickr – UN Women Asia and the Pacific, Geneva Health Forum.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.