Unlike many dull international gatherings, the recent #MA4HealthAP conference gave participants a multitude of innovative ways to engage with their peers.
Conferences are a great way to bring like-minded people together in one venue to learn from each other and share ideas. But they can also be deadly dull if they don’t break away sufficiently from the traditional plenary format. Fortunately, the recent Conference on Measurement and Accountability for Universal Health Coverage in Asia-Pacific gave participants a multitude of innovative ways to engage with their peers.
ADB jointly organized the event, held in Bali in late October, together with the Government of Indonesia, BPJS Kesehatan (Indonesia’s largest social health insurance provider), the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Asia eHealth Information Network (AeHIN) and other development partners such as NORAD, the Joint Learning Network, and PATH. During the conference, participants reviewed the current evidence on cost, benefit and impact of ICT-enabled solutions in the health sector, and then set about developing their own set of concrete priority actions to work on in the coming year at the country and regional levels.
A number of plenary sessions brought together high-profile speakers from around the region and beyond. The sessions became interactive with the help of the forum app Pigeonhole, through which the audience posted questions as they arose, and others could then vote on them. As questions bubbled up to the top of the list, the speakers were able to address the issues that most concerned their audience.
There were the usual breakout sessions, with feedback presented to the whole conference, and each group was tasked with a practical goal to achieve. In these smaller groups, national peers decided on the next steps appropriate to their unique circumstances that will help their country use ICT-enabled solutions to reach the goal of universal health coverage and transition their countries health sector M&E frameworks from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
By using a marketplace format—which is our personal favorite—the conference was able to present 22 different digital health architecture tools and solutions, with participants choosing the ones that interested them the most. Presenters engaged with smaller and strongly interested audiences, showcasing a wide range of innovations, including those for electronic health records, civil registration and vital statistics, geographical information systems, and open-source software solutions for health information systems.
Hearing about how ICT can be harnessed to make health systems interconnected and serve patients better is interesting, but the conference went a big step further.
A live demonstration showed in real time how even fairly basic computers and mobile phones can support existing open-source digital health solutions to deliver better care. Using a scenario of maternal/child health and malaria to illustrate the role for interoperable HIS in continuity of care, the live demo showed how a barcode-based unique health identifier can be created at any point of care. Information can then be shared not only with national databases, but also with other points of care in different locations and over time. Check out this video to learn more about digital health infrastructure.
The conference also got participants out of the meeting rooms with four site visits to a BPJS regional division office; a district hospital that had deployed integrated HIS and BPJS information systems, and two primary care clinics at different stages of implementing ICT-enabled HIS.
As the week drew to a close, it was clear that the transition from the MDGs to the SDGs was an over-arching theme. Whereas the MDGs fostered a silo-ed approach to specific health issues, the health-related SDGs have a clear focus on equity and they demand measurement and accountability for achieving specific targets. Both these factors put the role of ICT at the forefront.
This event was an excellent forum to build a regional response to the global call to action made at the Measurement and Accountability for Results in Health Conference held in Washington, DC earlier this year. Participants left Bali knowing that there was a thriving community of practice that they could draw on for advice and support, and ADB is proudly part of that.