Get well soon with data: How the RKI is making digital solutions healthier

30% fewer disease outbreaks and savings of up to 100 billion dollars per year – these are the impressive promises of predictive analyses and AI in healthcare. But how can we ensure that these digital solutions really work and help to manage health crises? With the rapid digitalisation of healthcare and the urgent need to combat pandemics, the evaluation of healthcare projects is becoming increasingly important in international cooperation.
How are the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and the Digital Innovation Pandemic Control (DIPC) initiative working together specifically on digital pandemic control?

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) are actively working on the Digital Innovation in Pandemic Control (DIPC) initiative. Our team, the Evidence-Based Public Health unit within the Centre for International Health Protection at RKI, is leading the evaluation of this initiative, referred to as DIPCE (DIPC Evaluation).  The primary objective of DIPC is to enhance immunization programs using digital solutions, thereby improving our capacity to sustain and respond to emergencies, such as pandemics. In this role, we serve as a central point of contact for scientific evidence, providing DIPC with strategic information to continuously plan and optimise the initiative’s efforts.

What is the common goal of the RKI and DIPC in the field of health system digitalisation?

The common goal shared by the RKI and DIPC is to bolster the digitalisation of health systems in partner countries and enhance their readiness for future pandemics. Embracing digitalisation across both public health and healthcare sectors is integral to achieving this objective, as it fosters efficiency and flexibility within the system.

In what ways does the RKI support the implementation of DIPC’s mission in international cooperation?

We believe that international cooperation, especially in development assistance for health, should be grounded in evidence. To support DIPC’s mission, the DIPCE team has prioritised several research areas to help DIPC and its partners anticipate challenges and enhance the initiative’s design. One specific example involves a DIPC implementation partner developing a digital tool for healthcare workers to use during vaccination campaigns. Accurate data from these campaigns are vital for measuring vaccine coverage, identifying unvaccinated communities, and optimising resource allocation. However, in resource-poor settings, data quality often suffers, rendering it ineffective. To address this, the partner is creating a gamified digital tool (incorporating game elements into non-game environments to make tasks more attractive and motivating), to engage healthcare workers more effectively and improve data entry accuracy.

Why does evaluation play such a crucial role in development cooperation and what impact does it have?

Over the past three decades, financial resources for development assistance have been decreasing, while the demand for such assistance continues to grow. In this context, decision-makers must carefully prioritise the allocation of limited resources. Evaluation plays a crucial role by identifying what works, under what circumstances, for whom, and to what extent.

By generating evidence through evaluation, decision-makers and cooperation agencies can pinpoint and fund the most effective interventions to tackle pressing global health needs. This approach not only maximises the impact of the available resources but also ensures that interventions are actually efficient and lifesaving.

Charbel El Bcheraoui

What pressing questions of our time does an initiative like DIPC offer answers to?

In the realm of public health decision-making, optimal outcomes hinge on evidence-based practices supported by high-quality data. However, a significant challenge arises from the lack of interoperability among various health information systems, hindering data aggregation and usability for decision-makers. The DIPC initiative stands out by addressing this critical issue. By offering solutions for interoperability between disparate health information systems, DIPC facilitates seamless data transfer and aggregation, empowering decision-makers with comprehensive and actionable insights. This initiative plays a pivotal role in enhancing the effectiveness of digital health interventions in global health, ultimately contributing to more informed and impactful public health strategies.

Is there anything else you would like to mention or that would be important to talk about?

Absolutely, I’d like to emphasise the importance of ongoing collaboration and innovation in addressing global health challenges. As we navigate complex issues such as pandemic control and health system digitalisation, it’s crucial to foster partnerships, share knowledge, and explore new avenues for impactful interventions. Additionally, prioritising equity and accessibility in healthcare delivery remains paramount, ensuring that advancements in digital health benefit all communities, especially those most vulnerable. Furthermore, I believe it’s essential to continue advocating for evidence-based approaches and data-driven decision-making in public health. By leveraging technology and fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, we can strengthen health systems, improve health outcomes, and build resilience against future pandemics and health crises. Overall, I’m grateful for the opportunity to discuss our work and collaborations. I look forward to continued dialogue and action towards achieving our shared goals of advancing global health and well-being.

photo of Charbel El Bcheraoui

©Charbel El Bcheraoui


Charbel El Bcheraoui is a health scientist with over 17 years of experience in public health research and implementation on different continents. He currently heads the Department of Evidence-Based Public Health at the Robert Koch Institute in Germany, which focuses on international health protection. His long career includes positions as Assistant Professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and Senior Evaluation Advisor at the University of Washington, where he assisted public health agencies in using scientific evidence for public health initiatives. Originally from Beirut, Lebanon, Charbel has lived and worked in numerous countries and contributed to major global health projects.