Digital Health and NCDs

Working Groups Co-Chaired by:

Dr. Ann Aerts
Head of the Novartis Foundation
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In many countries, access to health is still a challenge: according to the World Bank, there is only 0.2 doctor and 1.2 nurses/midwives per 1,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa (versus 3.5 and 7.6 respectively in the European Union). Further, low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) face a significant dual burden of disease. In addition to combatting acute infectious diseases, more than ¾ of Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) deaths - 31 million - occur in LMICs3; however, only 1% of global health funding is aimed at preventing NCDs. Strengthening primary health care to address NCDs will curb the growing burden through prevention and care and reduce healthcare expenditure.
Primary prevention should be the focus for any strategy for NCDs, alongside care and management at a primary level to treat those with NCDs in a cost-effective and sustainable way in LMICs.4 Connectivity and access to the internet is crucial for the supply of essential services such as health and education. It has the potential to be a game changer in primary health care to address NCDs to improve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) that will support the Sustainable Development Goal 3. In 2016, Africa's mobile penetration reached 80% and continues to increase. The power of digitalization is already starting to revolutionize the health sector in its reach, delivery, capacity and effectiveness.

Objectives of the Group:

The Digital Health Working Group focused on leveraging digital health to address NCDs through primary health care to improve UHC is being proposed with the vision of generating knowledge on digital health opportunities, best practices and challenges, particularly in LMICs. This report would aim to raise awareness and propose practical recommendations and case studies to support governments as they develop their strategies.

As the work will also showcase PPPs, innovation in technology, digital workforce development and training strategies, innovative financing mechanisms and business models, the audience will also include the digital health sector at large (international institutions, donors, NGOs, civil society and private sector).

The report will in principle focus on LMICs but may well bring forth case studies and examples from high income countries (HICs). It is expected that innovations showcased from LMICs may also be of interest in more industrialized regions as evidence of leapfrogging that may be applicable to HICs.

Raise awareness on how digital health could have a substantial impact on strengthening primary care and addressing the NCD crisis to improve UHC.

Develop recommendations for governments on practical and innovative approaches to use digital health for an integrated primary health care to address NCDs to improve UHC.​​

Fundación Carlos Slim, together with the Novartis Foundation and the Mexican Ministry of Health, held a joint event to promote the Working group on Digital Health report: “The Promise of Digital Health: Addressing Non-communicable Diseases to Accelerate Universal Health Coverage”. This event featured the report in Spanish and focused on health issues in Latin America. The event titled: “Harnessing the power of Digital Health and Big Data to design and implement effective public health policies in Latin America” took place in Mexico on 24-25 October 2018.​

Press Release


The Promise of Digital Health

Addressing Non-communicable Diseases to Accelerate Universal Health Coverage in Low- and Middle-Income Countries'

The report provides practical recommendations and best practice examples for how policy makers can use readily available digital technology to address non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart and lung diseases, cancers and diabetes. NCDs killed 41 million people in 2016, causing more deaths than any other disease, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Properly addressing NCDs is essential to achieve Universal Health Coverage, which is where all people can access the health services they need without suffering financial hardship. 


Broadband Commissioners

  1. Novartis Foundation (Chair)
  2. Intel (co-chair)
  3. ITU
  4. Government of Rwanda
  5. Government of Ethiopia
  6. Government of Pakistan
  7. European Commission
  9. African Commission
  10. GSMA
  11. UN Foundation
  12. Nokia
  13. KT Corporation
  14. Global Partnerships Forum
  15. Microsoft
  16. Huawei Technologies
  17. UN Global Pulse
  18. America Movil
  19. Inmarsat

External Experts

  1. WHO
  2. World Bank
  3. PAHO
  4. Vital Strategies
  5. The Union
  6. USAID
  7. PATH
  8. Asia eHealth Info Network
  9. NCD Alliance
  10. Norad
  11. Praekelt
  12. Gates Foundation
  13. Orange
  14. Axa