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Do No Harm: Importance of Interoperability for Deploying Digital Solutions in a Humanitarian Context

Author: Mary Nunn- International Privacy Coordinator at Doctors Without Borders

Data interoperability

The ability of different technologies to exchange and use data--is a key component when scaling up projects and an important objective for humanitarian solution development that goes beyond mere technical features. Whether intended for direct treatment, diagnosis, monitoring of quality, or understanding of epidemics, digital health technologies must allow effective sharing of data through the adoption of common data classifications and standards. The technology should help share learning and expertise. To achieve that objective, data interoperability is required at different levels: among professionals within a single organization, between humanitarian organizations, with private sector partners, and even among end-users.

The action of humanitarian organizations should always be effective, non-harmful, and accountable. We seek to develop solutions that not only facilitate care but also safeguard the privacy of the people we strive to protect, some of whom are among the most vulnerable people in the world. Since we are funded by many individual donors, we need to perform in a cost-effective manner and remain accountable for each stage of the process. Under these conditions, keeping people safe requires a structured approach to developing technological solutions.

When it comes to personal data and the individual privacy risks that processing it may entail, existing legal frameworks for data protection, such as the GDPR, come in aid. They require us to ascertain ahead of time which partners and other stakeholders will or may have access to data and to stipulate what each party can, cannot, and is obligated to do. A thorough assessment of data protection risks can lead to setting appropriate limitations on what other parties can do with the data and how they can process it, define what security measures they must apply, and set out what responsibilities each party has with respect to the data at any point throughout its lifecycle. By addressing this ahead of time, we are developing a data management and governance framework that maximizes transparency in data use and minimizes the risk of the technology causing harm to the people we are trying to help.

We work with different parties to develop such solutions and strive for collaboration to ensure a common understanding of our work and the environments in which we operate. This coordination often results in a more open approach and facilitates assistance-driven solutions wherein all parties to the development are working toward the same non-commercial objectives and are conscious of one duty above all: to do no harm.

Mary Nunn is one of the speakers at the “Health Data Privacy and Data Protection as an Enabler of Innovation” event taking place on March 11th, 2021 from 12:30pm to 2:00pm (ET)

She will illustrate the main challenges and solutions with data protection and privacy in the humanitarian sector.

The event is organized by the Institute for Technology and Global Health at PathCheck Foundation, in partnership with MIT’s Trusted Pandemic Technologies and it part 1 of the Institute’s “Healthcare: The Digital Revolution for More Resilient Societies” series.


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