Communication, technology and innovation

Development, introduction and widespread dissemination of new technologies in the health sector contribute dramatically to better health outcomes, including for the poorest and most marginalized. About 85% of the world’s children benefit from essential vaccines; the increased variety of modern contraceptive methods contributes dramatically to reducing maternal and child mortality; new biomedical prevention and treatment tools are helping to drive progress against HIV and non- communicable diseases; real-time data collection and monitoring is improving the performance of front-line health services even in the poorest countries and communities; inexpensive household-level water purification systems are reducing exposure to water- borne pathogens.

There are more and more effective and affordable biomedical, environmental and health-system tools to improve health outcomes. At USC and beyond, however, more attention is needed to develop, introduce and disseminate innovative technologies that cultivate and reinforce healthy behavior and influence the broader social, economic and political determinants of health.

Some examples have emerged about the potential of this field of work, including the use of video games on mobile phones to encourage children to use toilets in India and testing of different economic incentive models for peer education about HIV among sex workers in East Africa. Scientific, technological and logistical innovation have increasingly resulted in the creation of interventions that people can use themselves without direct reliance on a healthcare professional or institution.

There is considerable optimism about the potential of artificial intelligence tools to improve global health outcomes, alongside serious questions about cost-effectiveness, and in particular, the ethics and rights concerns embedded in their use. These interventions can–when optimally designed and implemented–increase access for hard- to-reach populations, relieve some of the burdens of service delivery that otherwise fall on over- stretched healthcare professionals and health systems, improve quality of life for people who would otherwise go without care, and–sometimes, most importantly–increase privacy, autonomy, and ultimately the acceptability of these interventions for patients/users. Unfortunately, such technologies may also increase inequalities and, ironically, decrease the quality, availability and accessibility of care, in particular for the most vulnerable and isolated populations in the US as well as around the world. Overall, these are areas of work with a massive potential to contribute to global health that have received far too little concern for their potential to exacerbate or reduce inequality.

The Institute has already begun work in this area, for example, in relation to the use of drones to address complex global health logistical challenges, user- initiated interventions in sexual and reproductive health to support access for people who are hard to reach, and more generally in relation to self-care in the context of COVID-19. USC has a particularly strong potential to make a difference to global health in this area, with relevant intellectual assets at the Institute for Creative Technologies, the School of Cinematic Arts, the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, the Information Sciences Institute at the Viterbi School of Engineering, the Spatial Sciences Institute and elsewhere.