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Breaking Barriers: Exploring the Future of Global Health Technologies


Insights from the first webinar in the "Breaking Barriers: Exploring the Future of Global Health Technologies" series
Insights from the first webinar in the "Breaking Barriers: Exploring the Future of Global Health Technologies" series

Introduction:

We delivered our first webinar in the series titled "Breaking Barriers: Exploring the Future of Global Health Technologies" on October 19, 2023.


The webinar was hosted by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in collaboration with the Global Surgery Foundation (the GSF), VSee, Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health, and Health Tech Without Borders (HTWB). The event announced the launch of the webinar series and followed with a panel discussion focused on the future of delivering digital health initiatives to healthcare systems with limited resources, particularly countries facing humanitarian disasters.


During the first webinar, named "Exploring the Global Landscape of Digital Health" we explored the intersections of digital health, ethics, and mental health, emphasizing the importance of striking a balance between innovation and ethical safeguards.


Participants:

Dr. Milton Chen, Co-founder and CEO of VSee

Dr. Annalicia Pickering, Clinical Instructor, Pediatrics & Cardiology, Stanford Medicine Children’s Health

Alex Mejia, Director, Division of People and Social Inclusion. Head, CIFAL Global Network, UNITAR

Dr. Jarone Lee MD, Co-founder, HTWB and Associate Professor, Harvard Medical School

Eva Regel, HTWB Clinical Director, Health Tech Without Borders. Clinical ethicist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston

Marianna Petrea-Imenokhoeva. Co-founder, HTWB


Organizations:

Health Tech Without Borders: https://www.htwb.org
UNITAR, The United Nations Institute for Training and Research: https://unitar.org/
The Global Surgery Foundation: https://www.globalsurgeryfoundation.org/
Stanford University Center for Innovation in Global Health: https://globalhealth.stanford.edu/


Dr. Milton Chen and Dr. Annalicia Pickering opened the UNITAR webinar series by expressing their gratitude to all attendees and partners, including UNITAR, the Global Surgical Foundation, Stanford Global Health, and Health Tech Without Borders.


They highlighted that they've been working on this webinar series for the last nine months and are excited about its potential. The webinar's goal is to explore the current state of digital health and telemedicine and identify the next big breakthroughs in this field. They aim to bring together thought leaders from various sectors to discuss the challenges and opportunities in digital health. Dr. Chen and Dr. Pickering also mentioned that they're developing a course to help teams build tech products to meet their specific digital health goals.


In his opening remarks, Alex Mejia, representing the United Nations, emphasized the significance of the "Breaking Barriers: Exploring the Future of Global Health Technology" webinar series. He underscored the global aspiration for universal healthcare access and the critical role that health technologies play in achieving this goal. Mejia highlighted the importance of technology in an interconnected world, serving as a cornerstone for healthcare access. He acknowledged the commitment of various partners in this endeavor, including Health Tech Without Borders, and their initiatives in the field. He emphasized the need for partnerships and collaborative efforts to drive substantial transformations in healthcare. This webinar aims to shed light on digital health initiatives and healthcare systems facing resource constraints, particularly in humanitarian crises. Mejia concluded by encouraging participants to get involved, as the United Nations recognizes the pivotal role of collective efforts and partnerships in improving healthcare access.


Dr. Jarone Lee began his speech by acknowledging the significant pain, suffering, and turmoil that many people are currently facing, especially in the context of recent events. He expressed hope and belief in the undercurrent of goodness and humanity, emphasizing the importance of supporting one another during times of crisis. He highlighted the increasing frequency and severity of both natural and man-made disasters, stressing the need for innovative solutions.


Dr. Lee introduced Health Tech Without Borders (HTWB), a global nonprofit NGO dedicated to providing support during humanitarian crises through telemedicine and other technology-based solutions. He emphasized that technology, both high and low-tech, has become a critical tool in improving access to healthcare and reducing disparities.


Dr. Lee presented several case studies, including a successful call to action where HTWB mobilized volunteers and tech companies to provide medical support to Ukraine through telehealth platforms. He also showcased initiatives such as The Tactical Medical chatbot for tourniquet application, container classrooms equipped with technology for education, and the use of augmented reality for prosthetics and physical therapy.


He underscored the potential of technology to scale and support a broader population with healthcare, emphasizing the collaborative effort of a dedicated team of volunteers. The presentation provided insights into the critical role of technology and innovation in humanitarian aid and disaster response, highlighting the work of HTWB in this regard.


In her presentation, Eva Skinner-Regel discussed the organization's work in the field of mental health and their commitment to supporting mental health clinicians and healthcare providers working in humanitarian crisis zones.


Eva Skinner-Regel began by highlighting the importance of addressing mental health issues, especially among healthcare and mental health providers working in humanitarian crisis zones. She pointed out that these professionals face unique and profound challenges due to the demanding and often traumatic nature of their work. These challenges lead to high rates of burnout, PTSD, and compassion fatigue among healthcare providers.


To address these challenges, Health Tech Without Borders initiated the "Helping Healers Heal" program. This program is designed to support mental health clinicians and healthcare providers working in crisis zones. Eva emphasized that it is not only an ethical imperative to address the mental health of these individuals, but it is also a strategic investment in the resilience and effectiveness of healthcare systems in post-crisis settings.


The program provides mental health support and offers interventions to prevent and mitigate mental health issues, including burnout, compassion fatigue, and anxiety. Through telehealth, they offer support to mental health clinicians in Ukraine and healthcare providers in Turkey. Eva highlighted that over 200 mental health clinicians participated in their webinars, and 10 mental health specialists were trained to provide peer-to-peer support to local clinicians.


Eva also discussed another ongoing project that focuses on making mental health support more accessible to those in need. HTWB have been working with Mindstep and Sora Union to create an interactive self-help app in the Ukrainian language, accessible to Ukrainian refugees. The app is based on evidence-driven trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, with a strong cultural emphasis, considering the needs and cultural specifics of refugees.


The content of the app is multimodal, including psychoeducational information, self-help techniques, skill training, and self-tests. It aims to help users manage symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD and provides feedback on their progress. Additionally, interactive materials like animated videos and audios are included for better engagement.


Eva emphasized that addressing the mental health needs of people in crisis zones is vital for their well-being and for the effectiveness of crisis response efforts. Health Tech Without Borders is committed to rebuilding and supporting the capacity for healing and human flourishing, even after the most devastating humanitarian crises.


In the Q&A session, various aspects of Health Tech Without Borders' work were discussed, including their expansion into Africa and their approach to dealing with technology infrastructure, digital literacy, and regulatory issues. Here's a summary of the key points:



Expansion to Africa:

Health Tech Without Borders is actively working on expanding its services into Africa. HTWB team, together with partners VSee and iDocta, plan to initiate a telemedicine service in Cameroon, and they plan to scale this service to support climate-affected refugees and rural areas across the region. The group is partnering with local stakeholders to establish and sustain these services.



Overcoming Technological Challenges:

In regions with limited technology infrastructure, Health Tech Without Borders emphasizes the importance of local partnerships and networks. HTWB team works closely with local organizations to understand the specific technological challenges and work together to provide solutions. Furthermore, they utilize technology companies and experts that can provide support, such as satellite connectivity and electrical infrastructure.



Training and Support for Users:

Health Tech Without Borders recognizes that even in areas with digital health literacy, people under stress might have difficulty using the technology effectively. HTWB provides clear and concise instructions for both healthcare professionals and patients on how to use their telehealth platform. Additionally, HTWB offers training to healthcare professionals to help them support patients, especially those experiencing trauma.



Cultural Sensitivity:

Addressing cultural nuances and sensitivities is crucial when deploying digital health solutions. Health Tech Without Borders adapts its services to align with local cultural expectations and language preferences.When deploying digital health solutions, translating content correctly and ensuring it aligns with local cultural norms is crucial.



Sustainability and Local Empowerment:

HTWB acknowledges that building sustainability into projects is essential. HTWB aims for local ownership and capacity-building, ensuring that the solutions implemented can be taken over and sustained by the local communities.



Licensing and Regulatory Challenges:

Licensing and regulatory issues can be complex when working across borders. Health Tech Without Borders works with local authorities, ministries of health, and governments to ensure compliance and appropriate licensing for their healthcare professionals, even when dealing with different country-specific regulations.



Global Partnerships:

To tackle the diverse challenges faced in different regions, Health Tech Without Borders engages with global partners. HTWB works closely with organizations and experts who can provide necessary resources and support to address specific issues.


The organization acknowledges that the process involves a combination of innovative problem-solving, cultural understanding, local collaboration, and global partnerships to deliver effective healthcare solutions in crisis-affected regions.



Regulatory Approvals and Government Involvement:

The audience inquired about the challenges of obtaining approvals and dealing with government officials. It was acknowledged that regulatory hurdles can be significant, but it's essential to work closely with local ministries of health and government authorities. Open communication with local health clusters in disaster settings can help streamline processes. It was stressed that respecting local regulations is vital.



Mental Health and Ethics in Telehealth:

Mental health and ethical considerations in telehealth were recognized as essential topics that need further exploration.


The panelists concluded the session by expressing their gratitude to the audience, encouraging engagement in the upcoming hands-on sessions and the course, and expressing their enthusiasm for continuing this important conversation on digital health for humanitarian purposes. They also welcomed collaboration from enthusiastic individuals and institutions in building a global community dedicated to leveraging technology for social good.



The monthly open-access webinars will feature a dynamic 'fireside chat' lasting 60 minutes. For additional details regarding this webinar series, including information about speakers, agendas, registration, and more, please visit the dedicated page here:




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