Tapping into advanced technologies to improve women’s health

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Rekha M Menon, Chairman and Senior Managing Director - Accenture in India

In 2018 the World Health Organization (WHO) commended India for its progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of a Maternal Mortality Ratio of less than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030. This is a notable achievement for two reasons: health and reproductive choices are among the most crucial barometers of women’s empowerment and are closely linked to economic progress, and in a large country like India with several complex challenges, it couldn’t have been easy to achieve. 

“According to WHO, four factors contributed to this achievement, including a massive concerted effort to increase access to quality maternal health services, providing state-subsidized financing for women opting for deliveries in public health institutions, improving social influencers like female literacy, and a government push for better collaboration between public and private healthcare providers.”

Clearly, we need a similar focus on other health issues facing women, especially as they are exposed to new risks from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and mental health, in addition to the existing risks of HIV and anaemia. Policy initiatives such as ‘Ayushman Bharat’ and the expansion of our existing healthcare infrastructure are fundamental to driving positive outcomes at scale. Yet on their own, they may not be enough. 

They can and should be augmented with advanced technology-based infrastructure to optimize the availability, accessibility, and affordability of healthcare resources for women, in addition to driving impact at speed.

 Here are a few specific ways in which advanced technologies can help:

Providing more power to the edge

Accessing healthcare is tough for most Indians owing to the shortage of healthcare professionals and quality infrastructure. In many cases, the available healthcare is just too far away – and women especially in rural areas, burdened with household duties, abstain from seeking timely interventions. Consider the AIIMS’ outpatient records which show that in 2016, less than 40% of women got access to health care, while for men that number was nearly 70%. A power shift to the edge can be achieved by equipping local community health centers with smart devices such as portable ultrasound equipment operated by laptops or smartphones, or creating mobile-based platforms that facilitate remote consultations and local decision support and even monitor health-related wearables.

Democratizing diagnostics 

Cardiovascular disease, the number one killer among women in India, can go undetected for decades. Furthermore, cancers that afflict women – breast and cervical cancer – account for most of the cancer burden in India. In the absence of a nationwide organized breast cancer screening program, diagnosis is inevitably delayed – the result is that Indian women have an abysmal 50% survival rate as compared to 90% for breast cancer patients in the United States. Advanced technologies can be used to develop affordable tools to reduce this and other risks, by democratizing diagnostics for all.

Policy amendments and resource re-allocation

When there are multiple areas that need attention, picking the right priorities is important. There are many programs today that focus on the reproductive health of women, but the rise of diabetes, cardiac and kidney issues mandates ongoing prioritization of resources. A combination of advanced technologies such as AI, IoT, blockchain, and edge-computing can bring together intelligent data and systems that can offer actionable insights to decision-makers for optimal resource allocation and even policy course correction. In addition, smart data and systems can reduce duplication in the infrastructure and processes of women’s health programs being run by multiple government agencies.

Engineering ecosystems

Enabling women’s healthcare interventions across all life stages is a complex task, which requires the collective capabilities of an ecosystem – the government, technology companies, non-profit organizations, and start-ups. Technology such as APIs, micro-services architecture and blockchain can help build and run these ecosystems.

Augmenting awareness

 Very often awareness holds the key to empowerment, and public health systems can use Augmented Reality and gamification-powered mobile awareness campaigns to debunk taboos and myths related to menstruation and contraception as well as push for a cultural mind shift that encourages women across the spectrum to opt for proactive check-ups that go beyond maternity care. 

Women are half of India’s population and holistic health empowerment is the very least we owe them. Let’s not forget that, healthy women are the bedrock of a healthy society and a robust economy.

 Author- Rekha M Menon, Chairman, and Senior Managing Director – Accenture in India

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