Strengthening the Health Workforce through eHealth Innovation: Reflections from the GETHealth Summit

Dr. Kate TulenkoI recently had the privilege of representing CapacityPlus at the Global Education and Technology Health (GETHealth) Summit at the United Nations in New York City, speaking in sessions on distance learning in rural communities and leveraging social media to address the global health workforce gap.

While eHealth and mHealth conferences tend to be geared toward the American and European markets, I found GETHealth refreshing and timely in its focus on lower-resource settings—in fact, the governments of Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda cohosted the summit.

Developing countries face different challenges including bandwidth, mobile phone service geographic coverage, and illiteracy that must be addressed when pursuing eHealth and mHealth solutions. GETHealth brought global thought leaders in health, education, and ICT together to discuss and develop technology-driven initiatives designed to empower health workers and the resource-limited communities they serve.

As I reflected on the summit a number of themes and recommendations stood out, including the following:

  • Encourage all countries to develop eHealth/mHealth strategies for their health systems in order to create markets, maximize public and private investment, and ensure interoperability (as emphasized in the recent World Health Organization resolution).
  • Use eHealth and mHealth to drive accountability in the health system—for example, anonymous reporting of corruption, absenteeism, and maltreatment of health workers and patients.
  • Create and use open source applications—like the iHRIS Platform for health workforce information that CapacityPlus supports—to increase local capacity and sustainability and reduce cost and dependency.
  • Bring relevant parties together to explore innovative solutions to overcome connectivity barriers to distance learning for health workers—for example, contracting a local Internet café to open subsidiaries in health facilities or making health facilities solar power and wireless nodes.
  • Build with scale and sustainability in mind. Rwanda’s eHealth coordinator described how all of the community health workers in the country have now been equipped with mobile phones, accompanied by a pay-for-performance scheme to promote accountability. Participants stressed that it’s time now to move beyond pilot projects and invest to take successes to scale.
  • Build evidence for eHealth and mHealth and share information. The website will soon be established as a global repository for high quality evidence of the effectiveness of mHealth interventions. Register your mobile phone apps at

Through the kind of innovative thinking and creative partnering on display at GETHealth, I hope we will see more eHealth and mHealth initiatives reaching large numbers of health workers in the near future.

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Photo courtesy of Kate Tulenko