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Faster response to COVID-19

Digital health data make it easier to fight the pandemic in Asia

A town in Nepal
In mountainous Nepal, health care is difficult to organise. This makes it all the more useful to have digital applications which provide a quick overview of supply and demand.

Data can help to make better decisions faster. Nepal has been using OSCAR, the digital platform developed by KfW, for a year – and not just for its response to COVID-19. This approach has proven to be successful. Other countries are already showing interest in the tool that has massively increased the transparency of health data. Meanwhile, KfW is continuing to develop the application further with the support of the University of Heidelberg.

What are the 7-day case rates in the individual districts? How many free beds are there, and where? Are there enough doctors in regions that are currently developing into coronavirus hot spots? The digital platform OSCAR can answer all these questions quickly and with the latest information. This enables Nepal to achieve maximum impact when deploying its limited staff and financial resources in the health care sector.

Nepal has recently made significant progress on some key health care indicators. For example, child mortality for the under-fives has fallen in the past few years. However, the goal of universal health care is still a long way off. This is partly due to the difficult topography of the country, which is mainly located in the Himalayas, as well as the consequences of the severe earthquake of 2015, which destroyed many health care centres.

According to figures from the World Bank, fewer than half of the Nepalese currently have access to adequate medical care, while a quarter live below the poverty line. This means a crisis such as the spread of COVID-19 hits a country like Nepal particularly hard. This can make a platform like OSCAR all the more useful.

OSCAR strengthens the health care system

OSCAR supports decision-making by compiling data in one place. The platform helps to massively improve the ability to predict the need for health care measures – both in emergency situations and in day-to-day operations. It facilitates the integration of routinely available data from different sources. This includes data on population mortality rates, health care utilization and expenditures, and health risks such as climate conditions, environmental risks, livestock, transport and mobility. Governments, local authorities and project-executing agencies can use these data to better plan and implement their projects and to monitor the effects more closely.

In Nepal, for example, the Ministry of Health and Population uses OSCAR to register the geographical coordinates of all public health facilities in the country. This makes it possible to determine how long it takes a sick person to reach a clinic or health station – while taking into account the current travel conditions.

demo version of OSCAR
Demo version of OSCAR, applied to Nepal.

University of Heidelberg and KfW work together

Since early 2022, two institutes at the University of Heidelberg have been supporting KfW in the further development of OSCAR – the Heidelberg Institute for Global Health and the Heidelberg Institute for Geoinformation Technology. The functions of OSCAR are to be further expanded and new functions will be developed. Portfolio manager Patrick Rudolph explained KfW's intentions, “Here, we have created a platform for the health care sector, which is suitable for many areas of application and can help poorer countries in particular to use their limited funds as efficiently as possible.”

But it is not just Nepal that should be able to use OSCAR. We are currently examining whether it makes sense to set up the digital platform in other Asian countries, too. In principle, it is conceivable that many more countries could use OSCAR to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Open-source solution

In order to make the platform accessible worldwide, KfW is also working with the University of Heidelberg and the British NGO, MapAction, to develop an open solution (openOSCAR) that accesses freely available data sources and interprets them in a meaningful way. A global community of developers can then drive forward the expansion of the platform.

The new features of the open solution enable, for example, decision-makers to identify areas with a shortage of health services or use simulations to look at the regional spread of infectious diseases. This helps to answer questions on how climate change impacts issues such as malaria, so that prevention can be adapted accordingly.

OpenOSCAR also models flood risk by extrapolating historical data. This makes it is possible to check how many people would be cut off from access to health care facilities in the event of a flood in a specific region. Furthermore, the application facilitates predictions of future health care needs at a regional level.

OSCAR is a prototype of how digitalisation enables innovative solutions for development issues.