Steve Davis’s lecture on “Catching up: the role of digital health & all in global health”

On September 12, 2023, the Peking University Institute for Global Health and Development held the seminar entitled “Catching up: the role of digital health & all in global health” by Steve Davis. Steve Davis currently serves for many important positions, including Senior Advisor with McKinsey & Company, Stanford Graduate School of Business Lecturer and Global Health Faculty Fellow, and member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He has rich experience, including on numerous boards and advisory groups, focused on the intersection of business, innovations, and social impact. Prof. Gordon G. Liu, Dean of the PKU Institute for Global Health and Development hosted the seminar. The lecture was joined by Associate Deans Ming Xu, Haibin Zhang, Xuezheng Qin and many other faculty and students from inside and outside the institute.


Steve begun with a couple of assumptions and predictions. First, he took the inclusive definition, i.e., the digital global health ecosystem comprises tools, policies, applications and infrastructure. Second, technologies move fast, and global health community doesn’t catch up the pace. Third, digital health and AI are the most transformable in the global health development, which are true blockbuster of our generation.

Then Steve discussed two trends he was excited about. First, the momentums in digital global health are accelerating in the last 5 years. It has been seen more innovation pipelines, along with growing funding and emerging talents. Moreover, the Covid Pandemic also accelerates the development of digital health. These phenomena are reflections of increased global awareness. Second, we are witnessing amounts of new political commitments and opportunities. Countries align to make commitment to global digital health, such as G20, G7 and WHO commitments. They are beginning to seek more coordination multilaterally and bilaterally, which have become more government-led and industrial-engaged.

Also, there are two trends he was worried about. First, there aren't enough concrete examples of use cases in this field. Consequently, we cannot put together a clear picture what digital global health is. We have a lot of competing health and development priorities and how to take money from other aspects and invest in public health is a complex proposition. Second, the underlying infrastructure and orchestration are weak. Data infrastructure including data governance, data cloud and data regulation are underdeveloped. Thus, countries should invest more on the infrastructure to apply existing tools and platforms.

Steve went on to say that there are a number of issues with AI. On the one hand, although AI has been used in prenatal care, diagnostics, pharmaceutical industry and many other areas, people are forgetting how to use AI to schedule teams and communication. On the other hand, there are remaining problems such as gender disparity to be solved, since females have less access to mobile devices. Steve also recommended that try not to deem AI as an isolated area, since it is a tool itself. He posited that we have put up too many walls in this area, and it’s time to put down these barriers and let more people get engaged.


At the end of his presentation, Steve concluded that the U.S is trying to find more safe harbors for more collaborations with China. Both governments in China and U.S. want to cooperate and the question lies in how to take these statements of good intention into practice. In this sense, both governments should seek approaches to make people feel safe and motivative to make collaborations.

The audience asked Steve some questions after the fascinating speech. One inquiry concerned issues with data privacy and national security when creating a worldwide digital health system. Steve proposed that in order to create a better environment, some level of data exchange was necessary, and that theoretically, we might begin with some categories. Steve also mentioned how crucial it is to learn how to raise equity. Since there are many aspects of imbalance including race, gender, socioeconomic status, we should work very hard to achieve equity in the development of digital global health.

(By Nan Xiao)