Publications Summary

Document Type
Analytical Studies
Publication Topic(s)
Adult Health Issues
Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Nepal
Recommended Citation
Edmeades, Jeffrey, Kerry L. D. MacQuarrie, and Rebecca Rosenberg. 2022. The Relationship between Digital Access and Use and Health Outcomes: Evidence from Demographic and Health Surveys. DHS Analytical Studies No. 86. Rockville, Maryland, USA: ICF
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Publication Date
September 2022
Publication ID


Information and communication technologies (ICT) have become an integral part of people’s lives in most parts of the world, influencing politics, social interactions, economic systems and health for billions of people. The potential of ICT for health systems and programs has led to a tremendous growth in digital health interventions aimed at improving access to care and changing behaviors through the dissemination of information. However, the evidence for the effectiveness of these approaches is mixed and there is growing recognition that digital health faces a number of important challenges, including poor infrastructure, affordability and socio-cultural norms that limit the access of some groups to digital technologies. This is especially true for women, who are systematically disadvantaged in terms of access to digital resources, a phenomenon commonly referred to as the ‘gender digital divide’. The gender digital divide poses challenges for the expansion and potential effectiveness of digital health efforts, both because this limits the potential reach of interventions and because the specific health needs of women and the roles they play in the health of others make them particularly important to a range of health outcomes. However, access to digital resources may have an effect on health outcomes even in the absence of specific digital health interventions. These resources facilitate the flow of information between individuals and groups, including about health care matters. However, while there has been considerable research on the effect of digital health interventions, much less is known about how simply being able to access and use digital resources such as mobile phones or the internet may be related to health outcomes. This study examines this question, focusing on the relationship between three types of access to or use of digital resources (ownership of a mobile phone, use of a mobile phone for financial transactions and frequent use of the internet) and a range of health outcomes, using data collected from women and men in five countries. The findings from the analysis suggest that the strength of the relationship between digital resource access and use varies depending on the health outcome examined and between men and women. In particular, outcomes focused on knowledge or where lack of knowledge is an important factor are most likely to be strongly associated to digital access or use, while this association is weaker for behavioral outcomes. This is especially true for outcomes that might be considered more private, such as use of contraception or seeking help for domestic violence. Overall, these findings provide strong support for the argument that access and use of digital resources are strongly associated with health, though this varies by context and specific health outcome. This is interesting, because this appears to be a more general effect and not the result of a specific, focused intervention designed to influence health. In other words, just being able to access and use these digital resources is associated with some better health outcomes, even after accounting for other factors that might influence that outcome. This reinforces the pressing need to narrow the gender digital gap while also working to increase the availability and use of digital technologies for all. Women’s access to the health system is often dependent on the ability and willingness of others, barriers that digital technology can help to overcome. As a result, addressing this goal should be a focus of policymakers and programmers worldwide.


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