Global leaders at the recent annual gathering of the World Health Assembly in Geneva expressed worry and optimism in almost equal measure. Delegates at the Assembly – the decision-making body of the World Health Organization – likened the scope of the world’s health crisis to that of the threat posed by climate change. They also agree, however, that digital technology and data will play a crucial role in accelerating efforts to achieve health for all.

In many respects, the world’s health has improved markedly in recent decades: average global life expectancy has increased by over five years, while childhood mortality has decreased by over 50% since 1990. Yet half the world’s population still lacks full access to basic health services, and health-related expenses drive roughly 100 million people per year into poverty. The problem is particularly severe in low- and middle-income countries, where the financial burden of the four most frequent non-communicable diseases alone (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases) is expected to surpass $7 trillion from 2011 to 2025, according to the WHO. At the same time, the world is just beginning to recognize the potential of digitally enhanced data to improve health. With increased use of digital technology, we can help people stay healthy, rather than waiting for them to get sick. We can make reactive health-care systems proactive and – thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) – even predictive.

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