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#hcsmSA chat: Diversity & Inclusion for Health Innovation

July 3 @ 8:30 pm - 9:30 pm

According to most descriptions of diversity and inclusion, diversity is the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin and political beliefs. Whereas, inclusion is involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognised. An inclusive economy promotes and sustains a sense of belonging; it values and practices respect for the talents, beliefs, backgrounds, and ways of living of all its members.

The World Bank estimates that one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. Persons with disabilities are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities, such as less education, poorer health outcomes, lower levels of employment and higher poverty rates. Barriers to full social and economic inclusion of persons with disabilities include inaccessible physical environments and transportation, the unavailability of assistive devices and technologies, non-adapted means of communication, gaps in service delivery, and discriminatory prejudice and stigma in society. [4] There are many different types of disabilities such as intellectual, physical, sensory, and mental illness. Some disabilities are visible whilst others are not, yet the media has often only portrayed disability with the symbol of a wheelchair. Various disability rights may also be less clearly defined, for example, HIV or mental health conditions. In both cases due to a lack of social empathy and acceptance, this can leave a patient not seeking out treatment due to stigma.

Another broad area of diversity and inclusion recognises the LGBTI community, which is an acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex patients who often face difficulties in accessing appropriate health, wellness and prevention services due to discrimination [5]. Disparities between the LGBTI population in comparison to the heterosexual community can include inequality in the workplace and health insurance sectors as well as the lack of competent care due to negligible LGBTI health training in medical schools [6]. This inequality within our systems has also contributed largely to a lack of data being available for population health researchers because sexual orientation is often under-reported [7]. A World Bank Report [8] recently ranked South Africa as the most unequal nation in the world. The source of the inequality that plagues South Africa is multifaceted. Unemployment, poor access to education, poverty and a collapsing public health system all play a role. To help address this crisis, local NPO’s like INMED is using school-based programs to promote innovation and empowerment amongst our young children, as are academic institutions like the University of Cape Town’s Bertha Centre who focus on social innovation in all communities, especially those who are neglected.

Building and fostering a diversity and inclusion strategy is a catalyst for success and a foundation for digital health innovation. Innovation doesn’t thrive where people agree, but rather where everyone builds on top of each other’s different ideas and perspectives to create an inclusive environment. Nowhere has this been more evident in healthcare than in innovative programs around the world like the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Digital Innovation Hub or the Merck China Innovation Hubs who are co-creating solutions together with patients and other stakeholders by including them in the design process. Breaking down this hierarchy between everyone to design innovative solutions is enabling them to identify and close gaps more efficiently. In addition, co-created digital solutions are more likely to address the needs of the end-users, therefore, improving the quality of data they collect. Health reform using digital innovation widens our choices as a patient because even though we might feel we have limited access to specialists in our public health system right now in South Africa, technology is in the process of addressing that. One particularly good example is telemedicine which will provide us with a global medical professional network, another is using translation tools, such as those we have become accustomed to on Google Translate and other sites. Many of those translation tools are now also focusing on becoming disability and culturally-friendly. Of course, there are many digital divides like the high cost of data to overcome first, but connecting our health system to the rest of the world is imperative.

Like many other countries around the world, South Africa has multiple barriers to tackle before we truly realise and live out what diversity and inclusion means. Focusing solely on our public health system as we evolve towards e-Health, these goals are both equally a priority that we need to try to work towards and talk about openly to achieve sustainable development and health for all. Beating some of the world’s deadliest diseases we all face now together like antimicrobial resistance, rare diseases, cancer, obesity, HIV/AIDS, TB, heart disease and mental health conditions can only ever be achieved by tearing down these walls of difference that separate us.

Read more at www.hcsmsa.co.za/how-does-diversity-and-inclusion-impact-co-creation-for-health-innovation.