Officials during the first digital transformation convergence workshop in Baghdad - the first of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa. ©UNICEF/Murtadha Ridha
The dream of every child having equal access to quality healthcare is on the brink of becoming a reality in Iraq. Thanks to the collaborative effort spearheaded by UNICEF, Iraq's Ministry of Health (MoH) is taking bold strides towards this future, riding the wave of digital innovation.
Back in 2022, the MoH pledged its commitment to transform its healthcare system digitally. A bold decision aimed at tapping into the immense potential of technology to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Fast forward to January 2023, and Iraq was the proud host of the first Digital Transformation convergence workshop in the Middle East and North Africa region. Supported by UNICEF, the workshop brought together some of the brightest minds from various government ministries, UN agencies, and the World Bank. They all shared one common goal: enabling a digital revolution in healthcare.
The workshop was the launching pad for crafting a robust strategy to lead this digital revolution, making the best use of resources from every corner - leadership, finances, organization, human skills, and of course, technology. An integral part of this mission was developing a framework to bring together all stakeholders and mobilize resources.
Leading the charge, UNICEF began initial conversations with partners to create a blueprint for digital health solutions. The aim was to ensure these solutions meet global standards while still in their design and early implementation stages. This involved standardizing data through unique identifiers and ensuring secure, streamlined data flows between different systems.
Furthermore, UNICEF went the extra mile to embed digital foundations in the national strategy by equipping the MoH's core technical team with the knowledge to manage this new technology and the tools to make it happen, including laptops and secured internet access.
One-year-old Jood is holding on to his mother at a joint MoH, WHO and UNICEF-vaccination campaign in Basra, Iraq. ©UNICEF/Hussein Faleh
A Broad and Enduring Approach
In collaboration with the international non-profit organization iMMAP, UNICEF initiated a project to map more than 10,000 settlements in Iraq using geographic information systems (GIS). This significant move will link birth registration with child health records, greatly improving planning for services and aiding sectors like education.
A keen eye has been kept on inclusivity during this journey. The focus is on prioritizing girls, women, and those living with disabilities. Female staff at the MoH are being empowered to spearhead this digital revolution, which will yield data to be analyzed and linked to performance indicators like immunization rates, ensuring equitable healthcare.
Climate change, a harsh reality that Iraq faces, is also factored into the equation. The health system will now track climate-related health indicators and produce real-time data on health waste management, the use of clean energy, and more.
To seal the sustainability of this ambitious project, UNICEF advocated for inter-ministerial and inter-agency coordination for digital birth registration. Training workshops will be held to ensure sustained knowledge transfer and longevity of digital health.
Through the use of advanced technology for digital birth registration and child health records, Iraq can ensure no child is left unvaccinated, and immunization coverage can be raised to beyond 95 per cent. In collaboration with WHO, UNICEF has already helped introduce DHIS2 for EPI managers, covering more than 1,885 health facilities. Up to 4,000 health workers will be trained in anticipation of the DHIS2 launch.
The objective is unequivocal. It begins with ensuring every newborn is digitally registered, given a unique health ID, and real-time notifications are sent to the relevant ministries. Ultimately, the goal is to link all social budgeting and social sector management systems in a single national registry, ensuring no one is left behind in Iraq’s digital transformation of health.