Learnings from investing in digital health innovations for reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.Download PDF
Digital health solutions can be a powerful tool to promote behaviour change, improve diagnostic accessibility, and increase equity and access to health services. While some digital tools are integral to service delivery, others have a more ancillary role: allowing other health programs and services to pivot in times of uncertainty and reach those without physical access. They are also well-suited to provide patient-centered health services that require fewer specialized health professionals, which is especially appealing in resource-constrained contexts. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the versatility of digital health solutions is particularly salient. They have enabled continuity of health services throughout the pandemic and have shown promise as a transformative force in addressing broader health system gaps.
Grand Challenges Canada invests in innovations that save and improve the lives of people facing the most pressing challenges in Canada and low and middle-income countries. With targeted support through the Transition To Scale program, Grand Challenges Canada provides grant and non-grant financing along with technical assistance to catalyze early-stage innovators on their path to achieving sustainable impact at scale. To date, Grand Challenges Canada has supported over 20 digital health innovators in reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (RMNCAH) globally with Transition To Scale investments ranging between $150,000 and $1 million CAD. The focus in RMNCAH supports innovators in driving change towards the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 3: to ensure the healthy lives and promotion of wellbeing for all and Goal 5: to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
The term digital health is rooted in eHealth, which is defined as “the use of information and communications technology in support of health and health-related fields”. Mobile health (mHealth) is a subset of eHealth defined as “the use of mobile wireless technologies for public health”. More recently, the umbrella term digital health was introduced as a term encompassing both eHealth and mHealth, as well as emerging areas, such as the use of advanced computing in ‘big data’, genomics, and artificial intelligence (1).
Grand Challenges Canada seeks to invest in digital health innovations that offer:
A bold idea:
- Use digital technology to enhance engagement with users, patients, and/or healthcare providers in a unique manner
- Monitor a user’s engagement journey to enable appropriate, timely, responses from service providers
- Use digital technology to increase access to personal health decision-making for all, by considering gender equity and existing systemic barriers to access
Potential for big impact:
- Accessible to underserved users, including those reliant on non-smartphones and 2G networks
- Potential to reach people at scale, especially women and children
- Validated proof-of-concept results that demonstrate improved health outcomes or health-seeking behaviours
A path to scale & sustainability:
- Demonstrated willingness to pay by either the end-users, healthcare facilities, or governments
- Strong partnerships with major implementing partners and secured government support
- Alignment with national strategies and harmonization with national digital health efforts
- Cost-effective relative to the current standard of care Driven by user-friendly design that is interoperable with other data systems