Harnessing innovation to strengthen systems for health


Supporting countries to harness innovation is central to UNDP’s approach to strengthening resilient and sustainable systems for health. UNDP views innovation as a critical driver to do development differently and better. Innovation for development is about identifying more effective solutions that add value for the people affected by development challenges. UNDP’s approach embraces an expansive definition of innovation as a break from previous practice that has significant positive impact, shifting the focus away from the introduction of specific technologies, to helping partners identify, test, and scale new ways of working based on the sustainable and measurable impact brought about by the new technology or process.

Within its health and development portfolio, UNDP leverages innovation at the policy and programme level to improve the quality, efficiency and impact of health services. These efforts range from facilitating the use of behavioural science and new technologies for improved programmatic efficiencies, to identifying innovative financing instruments in support of sustainable health outcomes.

Recognizing that innovation is not just cutting-edge technology but requires changing the status quo, UNDP invests in an integrated approach to foster innovation as a means of scaling and sustaining positive impact.

This page shares an overview of UNDP’s approach and focus areas to harness innovation for health. More detailed guidance and examples of its work can be found on the pages on digital solutions for real-time health data, innovations in electronic logistics management and smart facilities for health.

UNDP’s approach

UNDP’s continually evolving approach to help governments and other partners maximize health impacts benefits from the incorporation of multiple types of innovation.

Many initiatives aim to improve existing processes and services in health systems, such as helping countries leverage mobile technology to strengthen real-time data collection and information systems for health service delivery. In supporting countries to test new technologies or approaches to health policy and programme implementation, UNDP places particular emphasis in working with partners promote scale and sustainability. In India, for example, UNDP’s support to pilot the electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN) not only helped the Government to leverage a new technology to digitize the vaccine logistics management information system, but also instigated a broader culture shift in the perception and use of data as a tool for strengthening the National Immunization Programme.

At the same time, UNDP’s engagement to create enabling law, rights and policy environments for health is driven by an approach that helps countries to harness bottom-up innovation. UNDP supports innovative platforms, for example onces that bring key populations and civil society organizations together with judiciaries and policymakers in the design of law, rights and policy frameworks for health. Incorporating human-centered design principles into efforts to enhance legal environments for health helps to ensure that policies are designed according to the lived realities and needs of those for whom they are meant to serve.

UNDP likewise promotes the engagement of youth and other target populations to co-create solutions in disease prevention efforts, such as working with young people across the Pacific to design communication campaigns on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases using video, street art, and other inventive media.

UNDP also embraces a systems innovation view in its approach to strengthening health systems’ resilience and capacity to deliver. This includes, for example, promoting models of sustainable health financing and investments that facilitate mutual gains across interconnected sectors.

It is able to draw on a global pool of experience in new ways of working through the UNDP Strategic Innovation Unit, accelerator laboratory network and the Singapore Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development.

Case Studies

The following examples further illustrate the multi-faceted ways through which UNDP leverages innovation for increased impact in health and development:

Leveraging technology to improve health services and access

UNDP Testing behavioural insights and video technology to improve treatment access in Moldova:

UNDP partnered with the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Protection, Act for Involvement (AFI), the Center for Health Policies and Studies (an implementer of projects from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Moldova), and the Behavioural Insights Team (United Kingdom) to test the effects of virtually observed treatment compared with directly observed treatment on patients’ adherence to the tuberculosis treatment regimens. Altogether, 175 people affected by tuberculosis were included in the research, with patients randomly assigned to one of two groups: The treatment of one group of patients was routinely directly observed (DOT – directly observed treatment) and the other group was observed remotely (VO- video observed treatment). Preliminary results show that the adherence level for VOT was 87 per cent, which was double that of the control group, DOT – at 43 per cent . People who received VOT reported saving time and money compared with their peers who went to the local clinic to take the medicines in front of the medical staff. Results also showed that VOT reduced patients’ exposure to stigma. Read more here.

UNDP Leveraging digital technologies

UNDP leveraging digital technology to strengthen the effectiveness and transparency of public financial management, risk management, logistics management, and information and reporting systems for health: In Zimbabwe, for example, UNDP worked with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and partners to implement an electronic district health information system (DHIS2), to replace the mainly paper-based, multiple reporting systems previously in use at health facilities. The DHIS2 platform allows a diverse range of functions, from processing facility registers and service availability mapping to logistics management and mobile tracking of pregnant mothers in rural communities. Efforts are underway, with technical support from the University of Oslo, to integrate DHIS2 with Zimbabwe’s electronic patient management systems (ePMS) and other health information sources, thereby enhancing the interoperability of data and fragmented reporting systems. The DHIS2 package has improved data management and analysis for health programme monitoring and evaluation, leading to more informed decision-making. Read more here.

UNDP support open-source innovations in the COVID-19 response

UNDP’s Global Center for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development has developed the COVID-19 Open-source Digital Toolkit. The Toolkit features free-to-download tools that have been proven in other communicable disease and public health challenges – and which are also driving governments around the world. The tools address disease monitoring; prevention and containment; diagnosis; and recovery efforts. It also launched the COVID-19 Detect and Protect Challenge to create a repository of over 350+ fully-fledged innovations that can be built and implemented locally.

Systems change

UNDP Transforms logistics and data for decision making

UNDP supported the Government of India to pilot an electronic logistics management information system (eLMIS) that combines technology, effective governance, and strong human resources to strengthen the impact of its national immunization programme. The system, known as the electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN), includes a smartphone-based application and online dashboards that enables end-to-end visibility of real-time data on vaccines stock levels, movements, and storage temperatures. The integrated solution has promoted more robust data collection and transparent data sharing for improved decision-making and supply chain management, which is a model now being adapted and scaled in other countries. eVIN has also been adapted to support the fight against COVID-19. Read more.

UNDP takes a risk-management approach to testing and scaling corruption prevention measures in the health sector

Recognizing the added value of risk management for corruption prevention, and the need for tools adapted to sector specific contexts and challenges, UNDP in the Arab States has defined new methodologies based on its experiences in operationalizing a corruption prevention agenda. UNDP has helped numerous countries, such as Tunisia and Morocco, to successfully design action-oriented corruption risk assessments targeted to their political and institutional realities and uxnique needs. It has achieved notable results applying this approach at the sub-national level by testing small-scale, focused interventions in public hospitals, which have helped to inform national policy responses. This prevention-based approach using the language of “risk” and grounded in scientific method has also helped to shift attitudes towards corruption in the health sector by framing it as an institutional rather than ethical issue.

Innovative finance

UNDP is working on a tobacco control social impact bond

UNDP is working with partners to launch the world’s first social impact bond for tobacco control, to support tobacco farmers in Zambia. The project aims to demonstrate the capacity of an innovative finance tool to help farmers switch from tobacco-leaf cultivation to alternative crops and livelihoods that are healthier, environmentally-sustainable, and more profitable, thereby attracting increased private investment in an issue threatening progress towards multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Read more here.

UNDP focuses on impact investing for planetary health

Impact investment is an important vehicle for the engagement and ownership of the private sector in the process of SDG implementation. UNDP’s work to support planetary health helps to address gaps and promote synergies between SDGs related to health and the environment. The positive impact of its Solar for Health (S4H) initiative on health access and reductions in CO2 emissions, for example, illustrates the important social and environmental returns of investments that simultaneously address the health of humans and the planet. To build on these efforts, UNDP is exploring sustainable business models and innovative financing options in several countries, such as blended finance or social impact bonds, that will support ministries of health and social services to generate increased private investments in S4H.

UNDP works on investment cases to support co-financing of non-communicable diseases (NCDs)

As an intervention that can help countries realize significant health savings and development gains across multiple sectors, NCD prevention is a strategic area for mobilizing and targeting private sector investments. UNDP is working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO), the NCD Alliance, ministries of health, ministries of finance and other partners to develop national NCD investment cases, to prioritize action, mobilize resources from multiple sectors and develop innovative solutions in different countries. This health investment approach is prevention-centred, focuses on the population level, engages all sectors, and identifies how economic gains accrue to private and public sectors. Read more about the value of co-financing across sectors in the UNDP Guidance Note Financing Across Sectors for Sustainable Development.

Harnessing existing public sector innovation to enhance health outcomes

Innovative initiatives outside the health sector can also have important health outcomes. Hear follows some example:

Digital solutions for public service delivery

In Bangladesh, the Access to Information (a2i) programme of the Prime Minister’s Office, with technical assistance from UNDP and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has been looking at service delivery challenges, focused especially on meeting the needs of rural communities. One identified challenge is the limited number of medical personnel in rural areas, so a2i launched a telemedicine service that has improved access to health services for rural communities by introducing virtual consultations and connecting patients to doctors in urban settings.

Co-designing services with citizens

In Kazakhstan, UNDP is supporting the government to increase citizen participation in the design and delivery of public services, including through real-time citizen-generated data. This builds on the country’s introduction of the “Listening State” concept in 2019, which is a constructive dialogue between the state/ government and its citizens as a key principle for public services delivery. In the context of health service delivery, mechanisms that make citizens co-designers of public services can be invaluable to helping governments understand the needs and experiences of those meant to benefit from the services.

Key resources

Project Cycle Hackers Kit
A practical toolkit to help UNDP and partners identify opportunities to embed innovation throughout the project management business cycle. The kit provides structure to support new conversations, principles and tools to better manage clients’ demands, tease out citizens’ needs, and come up with fresh solutions to key policy priorities.


Playbook for Innovation Learning
The playbook has been created for innovation practitioners who want to spread innovation skills, methods and tools.


OPSI Toolkit for Public Sector Innovation
A compendium of toolkits for public sector innovation and transformation, curated by the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) and our partners around the world


Website: UNDP Accelerator Lab Network
Building the world’s largest and fastest learning network around development challenges.