Complete, timely, and gender-disaggregated data are critical for policymakers and government officials as they work to achieve universal health coverage. Without these data, policymakers are forced to develop budgets and plan resource allocation for their health care system without essential information, such as which regions have seen spikes in certain diseases and which health facilities are understaffed. Gender-sensitive data are also critical so that health officials can consider the unique health needs of women and girls.
In South Africa, the National Department of Health (NDOH) is improving data collection and resource allocation through the MomConnect initiative. At health facilities, health care workers use mobile devices to register pregnant women, more than 1.5 million to date, in the MomConnect system. The data collected are then shared with the NDOH giving national health officials a better understanding of the number of patients served at health facilities across the country. Once registered, pregnant women can also opt in to receive targeted messages on their mobile phone in line with their stage of pregnancy. These health promotion messages empower women to make informed decisions about their health and that of their newborns, such as when they need to visit a health facility.
While digital technology has led to improvements in the provision of health care for women and girls, it is also critical that all levels of the health system collect and use data responsibly. The digital health resolution adopted at WHA prioritizes data privacy, enabling women and girls to be the owners and drivers of how their data are used. The resolution emphasizes that countries should create appropriate data protection policies that include guidelines for data privacy and data-sharing, and procedures for informed consent that help ensure all patients understand what data are being collected and how they are being used.
Given the health system challenges that persist throughout the world, achieving UHC by 2030 may seem like an impossible goal. What has changed today is the role digital technology and data can play in helping actors at all levels of the health system achieve this goal, from patients being empowered to seek out the health services they need, to policymakers being able to more efficiently and accurately allocate health system resources.