Our world faces immense challenges in global health and equity. There continue to be huge disparities in access to health care across geographies, despite the massive strides that have been made to address health issues. In this dissertation, I explore the role of human-centered design to improve global health access and reduce disparities. Human-centered design, a cross-disciplinary creative problem-solving approach, has been applied and studied in both academic research and practice, but its role in improving global health access remains poorly understood.
In this dissertation, I present research on designing for health accessibility in the context of one particular disease: cervical cancer. Every year, 300,000 women around the world die of cervical cancer and ninety percent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Cervical cancer is an illustrative example of the global disparities in access to health care, given that cervical cancer is preventable and the majority of global cervical cancer mortality is in low- and middle-income countries.
My research examines the work of two organizations that created unique solutions to improve access to cervical cancer screening in India and Nicaragua. I develop case studies of each organization grounded in ethnographic fieldwork, including over 250 hours of observation and 15 interviews over two years. Through these case studies, I show how early efforts to understand the barriers inhibiting cervical cancer screening access allow design practitioners to create novel and feasible ways to address these barriers. This demonstrates the importance of design practitioners considering multiple dimensions of accessibility, including availability, physical accessibility, accommodation, affordability, and acceptability, while conducting design research in order to improve the potential impact of their ideas and prototypes. Overall, this dissertation establishes the foundation of a new paradigm to “design for accessibility” that can inspire further application and research across sectors to address the many social equity and accessibility challenges facing our world.