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A Digital Vision of Health Equity

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Digital Square is pleased to announce its new Executive Director, Skye Gilbert.

In this role, Skye will help guide the future of Digital Square’s co-investment, global goods, country capacity, and regional partnership work. When she is not busy driving towards health equity, Skye can be found rock climbing or skiing in the mountains.

 When I tell people I work in digital health, the two most frequent questions I get are “why aren’t you doing more?” and “shouldn’t you be doing less?” Some days I find myself listening to pragmatists who document all of health’s analog achievements and challenge me to find evidence that digital can do better. Other days I find myself listening to passionate visionaries who are impatient for digital to save the world. The global community is increasingly recognizing digital health’s potential, but the conversation is still a noisy one.

For me, connecting with communities is the most important pathway to finding the truth within the noise.

Last year, I visited a health clinic for newborns in a rural East African community. By 9 a.m., more than 100 mothers were waiting for the single nurse who was only available until 1 p.m. In the few minutes they had with the nurse, mothers focused on urgent needs and little else. Few walked away with a comprehensive understanding of how to keep their child healthy. None walked away with a digital identity for their child, even though a fully charged and connected tablet with an Electronic Health Record rested on the table next to the nurse. After a lot of listening, I learned that according to official policy, the nurse was supposed to have three assistants to help manage this patient load, but a shortage of local, trained professionals made that impossible. In the absence of this assistance, the nurse prioritized urgent patient needs over generating more holistic health insights through documentation. 

The truth is this—the history of digital health is one of mixed results. There are extraordinary successes that prove the potential; for example, HIV patients adhere to treatment programs better when they receive SMS reminders. But there are also abject failures that neglect system fundamentals in pursuit of something grand. When digital health fails to adapt to sparse infrastructure, overburdened health workers, and unstable funding, it has a terrible ROI.

When digital health adapts to local realities, it can affordably help people thrive.  

I have not only seen the transformative power of digital tools in my work, I have also seen this power in my daily life. We are living in a time when my husband monitors his post-surgery recovery with vitals taken on his wristwatch. A time when my parents can access genetically tailored cancer cures. A time when artificial intelligence is deepening our understanding of the spread of disease and influencing my own travel patterns. New, groundbreaking applications of technology are actively improving our quality and length of life. But in this process, we risk widening the gap in health equity. The wealthy and connected will continue to grow healthier; we must not let anyone fall behind.  

This is my motivation for leading Digital Square. I see its potential to help communities access digital health technologies and to find ways to maximize their value. Digital Square is powered by its community—a rich blending of investors, implementers, developers, policymakers, and users joining forces to deliver better and more affordable digital health solutions. Our vision has never been small; we aim to bring digitally enhanced health care to billions. Together, I believe we can. 

Join me in the Digital Square.