Jennifer became alarmed when the application that monitored her pregnancy showed abnormal results. What was the problem? The software was based on parameters of a 45-year old white male. It is clear that we need more women to participate in digital health and more visibility for those who participate in the sector. On the Day of Women and Girls in Science, we invite you to share your story and the stories of women from the region who work in digital health.
While COVID-19 continues to cause disruptions and pose challenges in health systems across the world, the Digital Health teams of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) brought together women leaders in the digital transformation of the health sector to reflect on how to make all of this a sustainable reality in the post-pandemic era.
“I am a new mother and I don’t ever want to see an application like the one I used during my pregnancy tell me that my results were ‘abnormal’ because it was designed with the parameters of men, white and 45 years old,” said Jennifer Nelson in her opening remarks while she cared at the same time for her smiling baby, who also participated in the Webinar.
Jennifer’s anecdote illustrates the importance of women becoming incorporated into the digital transformation of the health sector.
Gender Gaps and Digital Infrastructure
The participants asked the experts for recommendations about how to begin to close the many gaps – ranging from gender to digital infrastructure – related to digital health. According to a recent IDB report, at the regional level we are headed in the right direction in that 80% of men and women have a mobile telephone. However, there is a difference depending on where the population lives. There are gaps that favor access for men that range from 1 percentage point (in the case of Chile) to 18 percentage points (in the case of Peru).
The event was the fifth in the series “Share-Listen-Act, COVID 19: Digital Health and Information Systems for Health (IS4H),” a joint initiative of PAHO and the IDB that emerged among both organizations’ actions in response to the pandemic, and that closed the 2020 cycle with this meeting of 12 women and a single question: Why now? This question, which may seem simple, was the result of a deep analysis by a group of panelists together with the organizing team prior to the event. It had diverse angles: Why is it necessary to act with greater firmness now? Why must we invest more in digital health now? Why do we need to accelerate digital literacy processes in the health sector now? Why do we have to work and co-create with strategic networks now so that the topic does not disappear after the pandemic? Why now do we have to take into greater account the aspects of human dignity in a more digital world? These are just some of the “Why now?” questions posed by the panelists that can be seen in the video available at this link.
For her part, Myrna Marti, at the closing, stated: “I want to add to what has been said with a reflection about Sustainable Development Goal objective number 5, ‘Gender equality,’ which in its goal 5.5 calls on countries to work to ensure the full and effective participation of women and equality of leadership opportunities at all decision levels. It is the countries and the organizations that have a preponderant role to meet this obligation, and that is why I celebrate this hour and a half, which may seem like a small amount of time, but which represents a lot as an initiative to increase collaboration in the region and with other entities on this aspect, and in this way walk with strong steps along the road to achieve such an important goal.”
The reality of the labor market tells us another story: it points out that only 3 of every 10 workers in the area of mathematics and computer science are women, and that they receive a salary that is 40% less than men working in the same area. And it must always be remembered that technologies have brought us new challenges; in terms of gender violence among young people between 18 and 29 years of age, 1 out of every 5 reports having experienced cyber bullying since the age of 15 (UN Women 2020)
The experts pointed to certain ideas to begin to close these gaps. Wall, Pombo, and Purnat mentioned the importance of ensuring the inclusion of women in the design of programs and interventions, while Richards and Savignano focused their recommendations on ensuring systemic interventions and the articulation of services networks. Hullin insisted on the need to improve education on legal parameters. Bernardo focused on the need for disruptive changes and to give visibility to start-ups and to leaders passionate about resolving real problems in a different way.
As part of the event and to reinforce the message of working in networks and inclusiveness, the participants were invited to write on a digital mural the names of women they considered to be leaders on topics of digital health. And although many names were written, one participant, in cowardly anonymity, wrote: “I don’t know of anyone…” Well, we do! And we know many of them!
Are you a woman working in digital health, or do you know someone who should be recognized? Join our campaign! Complete this form so that we can highlight the work of these persons on our Social Digital web. You can also join the conversation on social networks with the hashtag #mujeresempoderadas.