Turning the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to do better

“The question is not what, but when. Time is precious and as the impacts of COVID-19 continue to traverse the world, we have choices to make. Do we simply respond to the here and now or do we work to prepare for the long term?” That was the challenge set by Dame Sally Davies, former chief medical officer for England and Master of Trinity College Cambridge, in a keynote on ‘Leveraging Digital to Predict, Prevent and Manage Future Health Crises’.

Joining her were leading figures in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s fight against the pandemic: His Excellency Dr Bandar Al Knawy, chief executive officer of Ministry of National Guard Health Affairs and president of King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences; and Faisal Alshammari, general director, Statistic and Information Management, Ministry of Health, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Mr Alshammari presented an overview of Saudi’s digital-first strategy, pre, during and post-COVID, in the session moderated by Ranyah Aldekhyyel, assistant professor in Health Informatics, College of Medicine, King Saud University, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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He spoke of how progress made in 2019 – including the launch of apps such as Mawid (centralised appointment system), Sehha (e-consultation application) and Wasfaty ( centralised e-prescription software) – had given the Saudi Ministry of Health a head start in its pandemic response.

“So you might think…what…are you guys preparing for the pandemic? No, we were lucky, I guess, to have such leadership and to have such policies implemented prior to the pandemic.”

Dr Al Knawy shared priorities and principles of The Riyadh Declaration on Digital Health that was formulated during the Riyadh Global Digital Health Summit in August, a landmark forum that highlighted the importance of digital technology, data, and innovation for resilient global health and care systems.

Dr Al Knawy, who chaired the Summit, said: “The declaration is a call to action to create the infrastructure to share good digital health evidence based practices, and real-time high-quality data that encompasses local and global levels, to enable more health systems and countries to have actionable insights.”

The Declaration’s nine key recommendations included effectively implementing data-driven and evidence-based protocols for clear and effective communication, and cultivating the health and care workforce with the knowledge skills and training in data and digital technologies required to face current and future public health challenges. View the full list of recommendations here.

Building on the anchor of The Riyadh Declaration, Dame Sally presented the Trinity Challenge – a disruptive global public health initiative and call to action to share good digital health evidence-based practices and good, real-time high quality data.

Dame Sally Davies urged: “We need to act now…but saying never again to COVID-19 needs innovative ideas and our Trinity Challenge can help us turn them into reality. I urge everyone participating in this conference to look at our website,

Looking to the future, Dame Sally, also UK Special Envoy for Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), highlighted AMR as one of the “critical examples of a slow-burning pandemic that will erupt” and said use of antibiotics during COVID-19 has aggravated the situation.

“AMR has the potential to be even more catastrophic than COVID-19 and we need to act now. It is our responsibility to turn this crisis into an opportunity to do better,” she warned.

Register now to listen to the session ‘on demand’ at the HIMSS & Health 2.0 Middle East Digital event and keep up with the latest news and developments from the event here.

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