A silent digital revolution is changing the lives of health workers fighting illnesses like polio in the heart of Africa. By utilising digital payments, the World Health Organization (WHO) has increased motivation, retention, and the overall effectiveness of public health programs. 


Ahmed Hamani Djibo, head of WHO’s Digital Finance Team, notes that over 80 percent of health workers prefer receiving their salaries through mobile phones, marking a significant shift from the outdated practice of disbursing cash. This shift is not just a mere administrative change but a leap towards better security, convenience, and efficiency.


WHO’s Digital Finance Team, established in 2020, has been at the forefront of this transformative journey. Collaborating with the Better Than Cash Alliance, a UN partnership advocating for the digitisation of payments, WHO has successfully implemented digital payment solutions in 24 African countries. Tidhar Wald, Managing Director at the Better Than Cash Alliance, acknowledges WHO’s leadership, stating that they have digitised payments for over two million health workers across the continent, making a clear impact on global health outcomes.


The benefits of digital payments are evident in worker surveys conducted in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Tanzania. Health workers appreciate the security of not carrying cash, the convenience of avoiding travel to disbursement sites, and most importantly, the speed of payment – sometimes within half an hour after finishing work. This speed, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is directly linked to improved morale and higher retention rates among health workers.


Jean-Luc, a health worker in the Democratic Republic of Congo, highlights the tangible difference in speed, recounting how he received a text notification the evening after finishing a polio immunisation campaign. This prompt payment allowed him to immediately plan for his child’s school fees, bringing a sense of relief and relaxation.


The impact of digital payments extends beyond individual health workers. Saïdi, a polio team leader in the DRC, emphasises the time and cost savings for campaign organisers. The burden of transporting large sums of cash and dealing with documentation is significantly reduced, streamlining the entire process.


Digital payments not only address immediate challenges but also contribute to broader financial inclusion goals. Maria May, Senior Program Officer at the Gates Foundation, notes that digitising payments supports people, especially women, in gaining access to financial services and increasing control over their earnings.


Alain Labrique, director of WHO’s Department of Digital Health and Innovation, emphasises the significance of digital payments as a pillar in digital health infrastructure. It aligns with WHO’s guidance on Digital Transformation, viewing digital payments as a foundation for broader digital development activities, alongside Data Exchange and Digital ID Infrastructure.


In the ever-evolving landscape of global health, the transition to digital payments emerges as a beacon of progress, empowering health workers and catalysing positive change across communities. WHO’s commitment to this transformative journey showcases a dedication to improving the lives of those on the frontline of public health campaigns in Africa and beyond. 

Digital payments to health workers boost retention, motivation, and impact. (n.d.). Who.int. Retrieved February 12, 2024, from https://www.who.int/news/item/09-02-2024-digital-payments-to-health-workers-boost-retention–motivation–and-impact


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