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Significant reforms are needed to unlock the full potential of data, information, and digital technologies to strengthen global health and humanitarian assistance. Acting on the lessons of the Ebola outbreak response suggests that health and humanitarian actors must:

  • Recognize and identify information as a valuable commodity for preparedness, response, and resilience
  • Invest in the infrastructure required for digital connectivity, as elements of preparedness, response, and resilience
  • Invest in workforce and institutional capacity, and in the enabling policy and regulatory environments to enable and capture the full value of real-time, or near real-time, information flows
  • Advance harmonized data standards and interoperability guidelines and practice to enable data systems to “speak to” one another
  • Coordinate investments in digital health programs to avoid duplication and fragmentation
  • Build capacity to design and deliver digitally supported programs in a way that adheres to best practice, such as that embodied in the Principles for Digital Development (e.g., design with the user, understand the ecosystem, build for sustainability)[1]
  • Leverage the lowered barriers of access to communications to more regularly engage nontraditional actors, such as citizens, frontline workers, and remote responders, in health and aid programming design, delivery, and evaluation
  • Use real-time or near-real time data and information flows to incorporate feedback and insights from localized data collection to adapt and improve programming and to create the opportunity to devolve decision-making to the point of data collection

Strengthened data and information flows present an opportunity to redefine the future of health and humanitarian aid programming. Although the potential this transformation represents is tremendous, it only can be achieved if a vision for change is accompanied by a plan for implementation. The recommendations in this report aim to help chart a path toward achieving this vision, by capturing learning from and suggesting practical steps to implement the lessons of the Ebola response. This will be critical for continued recovery efforts, and, importantly, to support longer term systems strengthening that is necessary to build resilience to future crises.

References

[1] “The Principles,” Principles for Digital Development, accessed May 31, 2016, http://digitalprinciples.org/.