Analyses of recent global trends indicate that economic growth is linked to the degree to which new ICTs are adopted by major industries, such as manufacturing, finance, and telecommunications. However, for countries to benefit more from the application of ICTs, there is a need for capital investment and human resources, which may not be available to many Small Island Developing States, writes DR LOUIS-RAY HARRIS.
Digital transformation in healthcare
Most SIDS are in tropical regions with higher temperatures and precipitation, and there is an increased risk of both water-borne and vector- borne diseases, as well as a corresponding risk of reduced labour productivity. In many SIDS, it is being increasingly acknowledged that the quality of healthcare directly affects patients’ recovery time, and by extension workforce productivity and GDP.
For countries to benefit more from the application of ICTs, there is a need for capital investment and human resources, which may not be available to many Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
To this end, several efforts have been made to devote more resources to digitally transform this sector.
One area in which digital transformation has taken place is the digitization of reporting processes required by medical personnel. During outbreaks of communicable diseases, reports are submitted by medical officers in the field to medical surveillance units. However, the patient information is usually handwritten, and the reports are processed by individuals who are required to interpret the writing. This approach is time consuming and can lead to delays and/or errors in interpretation.
In collaboration with governments in the Caribbean, an Information Systems for Health (IS4H) framework was developed by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) for implementation throughout the region, and it recognizes four goals that should be targeted, one of which is data management and information technologies. The use of tablet/laptop devices to enter this data should enhance the reporting and surveillance of medical conditions, enabling a more efficient public health response to new and emerging infectious diseases.
There is a need for a consensus on approaches that should be taken by governments in SIDS to prevent the skillsets possessed by their workforce from falling behind those of graduates elsewhere.
To support the ICT infrastructure being developed in SIDS, there have also been partnerships with Internet providers to provide high-speed connectivity, without which the processing of real- time transactions would be slow.
Building human capacity in SIDS
The realization of digital transformation in health sectors in SIDS cannot be achieved by simply training more medical personnel. The development of future-proof digital skillsets requires the application of new approaches to human-capacity development.
In 2013, the development of a cardiac simulator at the UWI Mona campus, Kingston, Jamaica, was hailed as a ground- breaking achievement that showed the ability of the UWI to develop a world-class ICT-based innovation, which has since been patented and shared with universities in the United States. This innovation resulted from a partnership between a local surgeon and a computer science lecturer, and highlights the importance of such partnerships to address technical issues in the field of health.
Another example is the incorporation of virtual reality (VR) tools to perform training in the use of new equipment; companies in SIDS can use simulators rather than sending employees oversees, thereby reducing costs. In addition, STEM-related concepts can be taught in schools using VR gaming applications, and VR can assist in the rehabilitation of patients suffering from certain physical ailments, such as stroke therapy.
In addition, owing to the interconnected nature of global health issues, the PAHO/WHO provides extensive support to SIDS in order to develop human capacity in the area of health. One approach is to organize conferences and training sessions in different SIDS, where local health practitioners are trained in the use of advanced technologies, such as advanced software utilized to analyse health data, ensuring standardization with respect to the presentation of health trends.
Challenges for digital transformation in SIDS
Funding: Many SIDS experience difficulty when accessing the funds required to implement plans to digitally transform different critical sectors.
Implementation: The implementation of projects to digitize various industries in SIDS requires reliable high-speed ICT infrastructure, which is not available in some SIDS, particularly in island states with mountainous terrain or which are archipelagos. In these cases, wireless connectivity is poor, and the installation of fibre optic cable is not feasible. Thus, there are limitations to the roll-out of certain digital applications, such as health applications, which require real-time connectivity to transmit patient/ pharmaceutical information.
Cybersecurity: There is the need for decisive action from governments in SIDS to formulate appropriate legislation to deal with cybercrime, and law enforcement personnel should ensure that digital forensic capabilities remain current. However, this requires significant investment in training and infrastructure.
Digital transformation requires significant investment in hardware, software, and human capacity development, and with very limited resources, many SIDS are at a disadvantage.
In addition, because SIDS’ economies rely largely on relatively small-scale industries, when acquiring hardware and software solutions, these industries do not benefit from the same economies of scale as more developed countries (MDCs). Thus, there is a need for a consensus on approaches that should be taken by governments in SIDS to prevent the skillsets possessed by their workforce from falling behind those of graduates elsewhere.
* Dr. Louis-Ray Harris is a Lecturer at University of the West Indies (UWI)