World Health Day 2022: Science, technology and innovation help improve health in the least developed countries
Are we able to reimagine a world where clean air, water and food are available to all?
Where economies are focused on health and well-being?
Where cities are livable, and people have control over their health and the health of the planet?
- World Health Day 2022, WHO
Themed “our planet, our health”, World Health Day 2022 emphasizes the interdependence between the health of the planet and human health. Poor environmental conditions, including climate change, claim 13 million lives every year. Polluted air, water and food have seriously compromised people’s health globally. This day calls for urgent actions to keep humans and the planet healthy and create societies focused on wellbeing.
At the Technology Bank, we believe science, technology and innovation are the keys to achieving sustainable development in the world’s 46 least developed countries, including improving their health systems and mitigating negative environmental impacts that jeopardize people’s health.
Through our programmes, we dedicate ourselves to contributing to sustainable access to health technology (SDG3), climate change mitigation (SDG 6, 7, 13) and strategic partnerships and advocacy (SDG17) to put the wellbeing of the people in the least developed countries in the forefront of the development dialogues and actions. Some of these programmes are:
Providing technology solutions for hearing care in Bhutan
The negative impact of untreated hearing loss on the acquisition of listening and spoken language skills in young children is irreversible and permanent. Moreover, the vast majority of affected children live in low- and middle-income countries, where the existing technological solutions have not yet been implemented. This is particularly the case in the least developed countries, including Bhutan.
With the support of the Royal Government of Bhutan, the Technology Bank and Medtronic Labs have launched the 3.5-year “Hear, Listen, and Speak Program for all Bhutanese Children”. The program will fill this urgent technological gap in Bhutan’s health system by providing the essential technologies, educational training and awareness-raising activities that strengthen the continuum of care for treating hearing loss for all 190,000 Bhutanese infants and children 0-14 years of age. This includes program partner GN ReSound’s hearing aids donation, as well as MED-EL, a hearing implant manufacturer co-funded by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), who is providing a specialist training programme in hearing science and training of trainers course in rehabilitation.
In addition, to ensure the benefits are sustainable for Bhutan’s health system long-term, the project focuses on building local professional capacity and services through technology and knowledge transfer. The Technology Bank will also continue to partner with various stakeholders including the public and private sectors to expand this model to other least developed countries with a high prevalence of hearing loss.
Building the capacity of satellite technology for climate change adaptation
Climate change is a pressing global challenge and is leading to serious damage to people’s health and livelihoods. In partnership with the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the Technology Bank provided capacity building workshops on satellite data-based decision making for climate change adaptation and disaster risk management to over 100 policymakers and experts in the Gambia, Mozambique and Uganda. In addition, an artificial intelligence model for flood mapping was launched in Mozambique. The model provides timely data to select the most effective response strategy during a flood.
Improving food security via acceleration of digital agricultural innovation and capacity building on research and policy
Food and nutrition security is achieved when all individuals have reliable access to sufficient quantities of affordable, and nutritious food to lead a healthy life. The Technology Needs Assessments conducted by the Technology Bank in selected least developed countries, have shown that agriculture and food-related technology is one of the top focus areas in the current studies. Most of the least developed countries are in need of climate-smart agricultural technologies to secure production. For example, technologies, such as water-efficient irrigation technologies can help reduce over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture. Other technologies such as climate-resilient crop varieties, and post-harvest management and storage can reduce food waste and ensure food quality. These urgently needed technologies are the priorities of Technology Bank’s technology transfer programme.
The Technology Bank with its various partners addresses this pressing issue from the perspective of capacity building on research and policy as well as other innovative solutions. In partnership with Research4Life, FAO and Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa (ITOCA), the Technology Bank provided training to enhance access to recent scientific knowledge, including in the field of health, agriculture and environment to more than 4,000 practitioners in the least developed countries.
With UNDP and the Government of Turkey, the Technology Bank launched the SDG impact accelerator (SDGia) that supported four startups using technological solutions to solve agricultural problems. In Bangladesh, the chosen startup uses technology to connect farmers to high-quality farm input suppliers and financial service providers. In Uganda, two selected startups use climate technology to forecast food deficits and connect farmers with food retailers, while another winning startup uses blockchain technology to provide a transparent, traceable and efficient solution to improve agricultural value chains.
In collaboration with the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), Technology Bank offered 13 fellowships over six month in laboratories in Trieste, New Delhi and Cape Town to enhance biotechnology research capacities in the least developed countries. In addition, e-learning on technical elements of biotechnology policy, including biosafety & biosecurity, containment & confinement, environmental risk assessment, and genetically modified food safety will be provided to regulatory authorities in the least developed countries.
Addressing COVID-19 pandemic challenges via technology access partnership
While the COVID-19 pandemic showed us the healing power of science, it also highlighted the inequities in our world. In partnership with UNDP, UNCTAD and WHO, the Technology Bank established the Technology Access Partnership (TAP) and aimed at supporting least developed countries to access, utilize and circulate appropriate technologies to manufacture COVID-19 medical equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE). While the TAP initiative ended in December 2020, theworking group on local production and diagnostics is still in operation and currently finalizing a roadmap and diagnostics handbook for manufacturers who want to access the laboratory and diagnostic market.
To commemorate World Health Day 2022 and echo WHO’s urge for a liveable world where clean air, water and food are available to all, especially in the most needed places in the world, the Technology Bank will continue in its commitment to its mission; to close the science, technology and innovation gap between least developed countries and the rest of the world, and call for more development partners to join efforts for a healthier world.