-Iman Hameed, Supriya Prabhakar, Diksha Bhasin, and Arpita Dhawan

The Digital Health team at ACCESS Health International was actively involved in the Lightning Talk hosted by the Global Digital Health Forum, centered around driving effective and equitable digital health innovation. We proposed a critical focus on empowering underserved populations in coastal communities through recycled wearable technologies for climate justice and health. Notably, the topic got accepted and was subsequently chosen for presentation. The session brought forth insights into the lives of coastal communities in Sri Lanka.

The Global Digital Health Network hosts the annual Global Digital Health Forum every year in December. The Forum features diverse sessions to connect government stakeholders, digital health developers, researchers, donors, implementers, and field experts from across the globe. The Forum features panel presentations, hands-on workshops, poster presentations, lightning talks, facilitated expert round-table discussions, digital health workshops, and interactive solution demonstrations.

The talk took the form of a compelling micro-documentary, engaging viewers with a community in dire need of digital innovations to combat climate-change-induced challenges affecting health and wider social determinants. Coastal small-scale fisherfolk emerged as particularly vulnerable due to limited access to health services, high occupational risks, and insufficient social safety nets.

Highlighting the occupational and socioeconomic health risks compounded by limited access to routine medical services, the talk emphasized the heightened exposure of these communities to the adverse effects of climate change. The personal narrative shared by a young fisherman, Nipun, from the Sri Lankan coast vividly portrayed the severe challenges confronting communities in one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations Nipun discussed how the stark reality of changing environmental conditions is vividly evident. With rising temperatures, the heat at sea has become nearly unbearable, drastically impacting fishing expeditions. The once familiar fishing grounds are now scant of fish, and the degradation of corals due to heightened temperatures further exacerbates the challenges faced by coastal communities.

Moreover, the migration of fish towards deeper and cooler waters has led to significant losses for fishermen, resulting in numerous unproductive days at sea. Navigating these adverse conditions becomes even more precarious when considering health concerns. Nipun highlighted the absence of means to communicate in case of illness while at sea, emphasizing the critical need for immediate assistance and advice in such situations. The inability to seek guidance remotely not only poses risks to individual health but also causes potential delays in accessing necessary medical aid upon returning to land.

Nipun’s insights underscore the urgency for improved communication and support systems, emphasizing the necessity for accessible means to address health emergencies while out at sea.

The session emphasized digital innovation as a pivotal force in empowering fishing communities to confront and alleviate the direct and indirect impacts of climate-induced challenges. At the forefront of this innovation are recyclable wearable technologies, offering a myriad of transformative solutions. These devices encompass long-distance emergency communication systems, GPS navigation, real-time weather tracking, access to crucial health information, telemedicine services, and streamlined remote health monitoring. By providing real-time weather insights, these wearables assist fishermen in navigating safer waters and offer vital aid during emergencies. Health parameter monitoring enables proactive well-being measures and facilitates immediate access to telemedical assistance. Beyond their functional aspects, these devices play a fundamental role in educating and advocating for healthier choices within the unique lifestyle of fishermen, proving indispensable in times of crisis as life-saving tools.

This talk not only shed light on the pressing issues faced by coastal communities but also provided a visionary solution that marries technology with social responsibility. The Digital Health team remains committed to leveraging such innovations to drive positive change and support vulnerable populations in the face of climate challenges.

The insights gleaned from this talk pave the way for actionable strategies aimed at empowering communities and building resilience against the evolving impacts of climate change on health. But this transformation isn’t solely about technology; it’s about community collaboration. Local healthcare and environmental groups band together, intertwining health and sustainability. This unified effort fosters thriving villages—a testament to determination and a beacon of solidarity in adversity. Wearable devices cease to be just gadgets; they become integral to bridging health services, transforming lives, and symbolizing resilience. The insights gleaned from this talk propel us towards actionable strategies, urging us to harness the power of digital health innovations for a more equitable and sustainable future. As we move forward, let us collectively harness the power of digital health innovations to create a more equitable and sustainable future for all.

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