Plenary 4: Capturing the breadth and depth of the digital health era – beyond the COVID-19 pandemic

Friday 12 November 2021, 10:10 – 11:10 AM CET.
Organisers: WHO Regional Office for Europe, EUPHA Digital health section.


  • Clayton Hamilton, Regional Adviser, Digital Health Flagship, WHO Regional Office for Europe
  • Stefan Buttigieg, Vice-president, EUPHA Digital health section and Co-founder, Digital Health Malta 



As digitalization is progressively permeating all aspects of society, how can be it employed to sustain the public health goals of quality, accessibility, efficiency and equity in health care and prevention now and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic? In this session jointly presented by WHO Regional Office for Europe and EUPHA, we examine the extent to which technology is contributing positively or negatively to strengthening the resilience of health systems and empowering individuals and communities.

Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic the WHO Euro had already identified the empowerment of people and transformation of health services through digital technologies as one of its four flagship areas in the European Programme of Work 2020-2025. Digital technologies can enable progress towards universal health coverage by improving access to quality person-centred services and complementing the efforts of the health workforce. Resilience of individuals and communities to prepare and respond to emergencies can be enhanced through the effective use of data and digital technologies. Empowerment of people to lead healthier lives and prevent disease through the appropriate use of digital technologies can transform our approach to health.

In 2019 EUPHA published its manifesto for Public health digitalization in Europe, premised on the ability for digital technologies to support a transition from curative care to prevention, to support the empowerment of people and patients in taking ownership for their health and to render health care delivery more efficient, safer and cheaper. Prior to the global COVID-19 outbreak WHO Euro and EUPHA had already joined efforts towards shaping the debate around the ‘Beautiful Marriage’ where the digital health and public health communities work to co-create a healthy and fair future. COVID-19 has brought a new impetus for the use of digital technologies, both for disease control as well as to support access to care in times of emergency. This presents an opportunity for critical reflections as we transition into a post-pandemic crisis future.

The session which will be organised as a round table discussion will open by taking a candid look at how  digital technologies have been harnessed to support the public-health response to COVID-19. Panellists will critically discuss how applications have been used in population surveillance, testing, tracking and tracing, in rolling out vaccinations as well as the controversial uses of smart vaccination certificates. They will be asked to reflect on infodemics and how these have hindered an optimal global pandemic response.

In a second round, following a brief overview showing how the use of digital technologies has accelerated to support continuity of essential health services in a safe way at the peak of the pandemic, panellists will be asked to  discuss and debate what this means for the sustained transformation of health services delivery and health systems in the future. They will be asked to discuss barriers to digital health implementation, including legal, ethical and privacy barriers, as well as organizational and workforce barriers

Finally, panellists will be requested to respond to the criticism that the global health community is still using analogue tools in a fragmented manner to combat health threats in a digital era by proposing one key action that needs to be undertaken at supra-national level to ensure pan-European interoperability of health data that provides timely information on health and disease distribution within populations in Europe.