Though the world has significantly reduced neonatal and maternal deaths, newborns and mothers — including adolescent mothers — continue to perish in devastating numbers. In 2021, 5 million children under age 5 died. In that same year, roughly 800 women a day died from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth. These outcomes are often preventable or treatable through localized approaches to deliver quality, accessible and affordable health care. Addressing the compounding effects of poverty, malnutrition, the worsening climate crisis, ongoing conflicts and displacements on child and maternal health requires bold, innovative action.

Advances in digital technology and data science show promise in enhancing the delivery of essential care to improve maternal, newborn and child health outcomes. Technological innovations in health care must be scaled and designed to be sustainable by local governments and organizations to reach the people who need them most. UNICEF and longtime partner The Rockefeller Foundation recently completed an initiative to strengthen community-based primary health care by improving timely access to and use of community-level data, including equipping community health workers (CHWs) with data-driven tools to make timely and lifesaving health care decisions that enable the delivery of high-quality community-based interventions and support real-time reporting.

The Intelligent Community Health Systems (iCoHS) project supported countries in implementing and owning scalable, data-driven community-based primary health care with an equity focus on the most deprived populations. Launched in 2019 with the creation of innovation and learning labs in Uganda and India, the project later expanded to Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania/Zanzibar and Zambia.

The iCoHS initiative aimed to expand the reach and strengthen the capacity of CHWs to deliver essential health services. In many populations, CHWs are the first to provide preventive, promotive and basic curative care and to ensure the continuity of essential health and nutrition services during pandemics and climate shocks. CHWs frequently identify and respond to potential disease outbreaks as well.

Often, CHWs, who are mostly women, are overburdened with responsibility for many households across large territories. They must also balance their patient care with administrative work, including reporting information to a national or primary health system. Data and technology advances can greatly ease the burdens placed on these vital workers.

Read the full article about investing in health data by Cynthia Tully at Forbes.