If disease is to be defeated, existing knowledge must be applied in ways that will improve health care, especially in low- and middle-income countries, researchers wrote in The Lancet in 2006. They added that applying what we know will have a larger impact on health and disease than any drug or technology likely to be introduced.
These sentiments were reinforced today at the mHealth Summit in Washington, DC, by various speakers including Bill Gates, who discussed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's grand challenges in global health. Although he touched on the need to disseminate health information to people in low- and middle-income countries, he didn't go as far as the authors of The Lancet piece who suggested adding a 15th grand challenge to the fourteen the Gates Foundation has identified.
“The 15th challenge is to ensure that everyone in the world can have access to clean, clear, knowledge – a basic human right, and a public health need as important as access to clean, clear, water, and much more easily achievable,” the authors wrote over four years ago. They added that the “philosophy behind the 15th challenge is to find the middle ground between the 'more research is needed' and the 'just implement it' school of thought. This new area will deliver best current knowledge to those who need it within the health system. It will identify gaps in knowledge, and support research in these areas. It will highlight ways to link various types of knowledge and inform health-policy decisions.”
Four years ago, this goal might have seemed daunting, but with the information and communication technologies (ICTs) that have emerged in the past few years, health information for all seems a bit more attainable. At K4Health, we believe that using knowledge management solutions as well as state-of-the-art ICTs that make sense at both the global and country levels can help capture, organize and disseminate health information to inform policy decisions, strengthen health systems and ultimately save lives.
In Malawi, for example, our partner Management Sciences for Health (MSH), is implementing our pilot project to improve access to family planning and reproductive health information among community health workers. Using FrontlineSMS in the Salima and Nkohtakota districts, we hope to provide timely and accurate family planning and reproductive health services to men and women in rural areas to reduce incidences of maternal and neonatal mortality.
As the authors of The Lancet noted, health improvement is inextricably linked to the quality of the health system and health care delivery. For that reason, those that make up the health system must be better served by knowledge. We have the knowledge and tools to do so, now is the time to make health information for all a reality.
The K4Health Blog (www.k4health.org/blog) provided live coverage of the mHealth Summit and related activities throughout the week. You can also view the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #mHS10.
Chris Rottler, Senior Communication Manager