“India’s digital goods are for the world. India’s digital infrastructure and capabilities are enablers of global economic growth and human development.” This was stated by Dr V K Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog while delivering the keynote address at the session on ‘Digital Health Innovations and Solutions to Aid Universal Health Coverage and Improve Healthcare Service Delivery’, on the second day of the 3rd Health Working Group of G20 India, at Hyderabad, Telangana.
Shining a spotlight on India’s leadership in the arena of digital health, Dr Paul stated “India as the voice of Global South is committed to minimizing the digital health divide by promoting digital solutions and innovation to aid universal health coverage.” Reiterating a quote of the Prime Minister of Digital India where he stated “I dream of a digital India with quality healthcare is accessible right up to the remotest regions powered by e-healthcare”, he added that deliberations in the health working groups have led us to the belief that digital technologies can play a very critical role in achieving universal health coverage and combating health emergencies.
Elaborating further Dr Paul stated “Digital Health enables universal health coverage through access to health care services by people regardless of their location and socio-economic status through initiatives such as telemedicine and mobile application. It also facilitates universal health coverage through seamless exchange of health information amongst providers, systems, patients, policy-makers and so on through multiple systems.” Underscoring the impact of digital initiatives, Dr Paul cited the example of Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission stating “it brings together state government, union government, laboratories, insurance providers, health tech companies, doctors, NGOs program managers, other stakeholders keeping the citizens at the centre of this endeavors.”
Underlining the significance of digital health, Dr Paul urged all to become a part of the global revolution in digital health for universal health coverage. He stressed “let us envision a world where a comprehensive package of digital health tools and services are accessible to all, where digital health is for all by 2035.”
The other important speakers for the session included Dr Christopher Elias, President, Global Development, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Dr Alain Labrique, Director, Department of Digital Health & Innovation, WHO.
Dr Christopher Elias commended the inclusion of Digital Health as a priority in the G20 Presidency and said “inclusivity, equity and affordability are key principles for this priority. He further said “Technology, in particular digital technology has a critical enabling role to play in accelerating the progress towards universal health coverage and improving health service delivery. The world has witnessed the significant momentum of digital health and the development of digital health tools that lower- and middle-income countries have experienced over the last decade, and especially due to the onset of the recent Covid pandemic.”
Speaking on the occasion, Dr Alain Labrique stated “When we talk about digital health, we are talking about strengthening primary health care systems, improving universal health coverage, and timely and relevant data for decision making and resource allocation. Most important, we are talking about equity so that no one get left behind. Digital health is a proven pathway to achieve universal health goals.”
Underscoring the relevance and importance of digital health, he said that the pandemic has galvanized many governments to move from digital experimentation to digital transformation. The global initiative on digital health levels the playing field optimizing investments, democratizing access to the building blocks and improving the responsiveness that the country needs. Emphasizing that digitalization of global health systems in inevitable. Underlining the ramifications of that he said “whether it happens in a way that ensures quality, efficiency, equity and inclusion will depend on we as a group move together.” Highlighting the role of G20 Presidency, he said “We must as a group invest strategically. This will enable cross border exchange of credential health information now available to all member states.”
Members of the Troika from Indonesia and Brazil lauded Digital Health as a powerful tool in universal axis for health and stated digital health represents transformative breakthrough enabling comprehensive and accessible health care. They recommended collaboration with member countries and key stakeholders and urged participation of international organization in supporting and guiding countries for adapting to norms of global digital health network. They emphasized on fostering the development of digital infrastructure in relevant areas, promote digital literacy and education and ensure accessibility of digital health solution for all.
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan highlighted the three health priorities of the G20 India Presidency and lauded the contributions of the participations. Noting that the next pandemic will not wait for us to make a global treaty, he stated that “it is the need of the hour to ensure that the next pandemic sees us adequately prepared as billions of lives and livelihoods will be at stake hence, we must act with a sense of urgency”. He urged all the stakeholders to come together and act for ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’, theme of India G20 Presidency.
Dr Rajiv Bahl, Secretary, Dept of Health Research and DG, ICMR; G Kamala Vardhana Rao, CEO Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Abhay Thakur, Additional Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs and Sous Sherpa of India’s G20 Presidency, Lav Agarwal, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Hekali Zhimomi, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, government officials, representatives from the G20 member countries, special invitee countries, international organizations, forums and partners like WHO, World Bank, WEF etc., and senior officers of the Union Government were present for the session.