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G20: India proposes convergent approach for all digital health initiatives

“There is a need to move from the compartmental approach to a convergent approach to reap the true benefits of Digital Health while creating a global institutional framework for digital health efforts.” This was stated by Dr Bharati Pravin Pawar, Union Minister of State for Health & Family Welfare during her address on the concluding day of the “Global Conference on Digital Health – Taking Universal Health Coverage to the Last Citizen” a co-branded event under India’s G20 Presidency organized by WHO – South-East Asia Region in collaboration with the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Pawar expressed her gratitude to all participant countries and delegates for discussing how Digital Health can support the citizens at the cutting-edge level. Highlighting the significance of technology in the policy planning and program implementation arena, she said that “we are at an important juncture where all countries are aligning their healthcare service delivery with integration of technology. Through this conference, we have observed a wide spectrum of ongoing digital health initiatives being undertaken by member countries and an assortment of ideas and innovations on digital interventions in healthcare which can support achievement of Universal Health Coverage.” Dr Pawar noted that the conference highlighted the country-specific insights & experiences on the digital transformation challenges, opportunities, & critical success factors along with common issues which are limiting the scaleup of Digital health tools. She further added that “the historic challenge of lack of data standards and their effective implementation restricts the interoperability within programs.”

Talking further about the issues behind the adoption of digital health interventions, Dr Pawar said that “the siloed approach within healthcare ecosystem results in duplication of efforts in developing same type of digital tools.” “This reinventing the wheel approach have direct bearings on the amount being invested multiple times across multiple geographies, leading to an inefficient use of available limited resources. Along with these, lack of skill development and trained human resources further creates a barrier for operationalization and scalability of tools”, she further added. Hence, she said that through various discussions in last two days, it was highlighted that there is a need for a global institutional framework to realign the existing digital health efforts. “The focus should shift to implementation of tools across the world and in fact we should be looking for bridging the digital divide through a mission mode approach for universalization of digital health”, she emphasized.

Showcasing India’s commitment towards Universal Health coverage through use of technology, Dr Pawar stated that “Union Health Minister has already emphasized that India has prioritized digital health as a specific agenda. Digital Public Goods can be a crucial approach to promote democratizing of technologies across the countries, particularly in low & middle-income countries (LMICs). Hence, India under its G20 Presidency has also proposed a convergent approach for all ongoing digital health initiatives through ‘Global Initiative on Digital Health’, as an institutional framework under overall guiding framework of WHO.” “This initiative will make available curated IT tools as Digital Public Health Goods, including their customization & implementation across the world particularly the Low & Middle-Income countries”, she further added.

Inviting all the participants for the upcoming G20 Health Working Group (HWG) meeting, Dr Pawar said that India is leading the G-20 agenda and has proposed strengthening of global health partnerships under the overarching theme of India’s G20 presidency – One Earth, One Family, One Future. She was hopeful that the momentum created through this two-day conference will continue during the upcoming G20 HWG meeting.

Lav Agrawal, Additional Secretary, MoHFW said that the conference has seen an enthusiastic participation from over 21 countries and over 20 International Organisations covering almost all the regions across the world. He informed that conference has showed us that Digital Health can offer curative, preventive and palliative solutions. It has the potential of bridging the gap of last mile delivery of services. Thus, investment towards interoperability, adopting innovative practices such as Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, co-creating digital public health goods through collaboration with stakeholders is crucial. He said that India through its G20 presidency has reiterated full fledged support for working towards a holistic digital health framework with partners and be the voice of global south.

Dr Alan Labrique, Director, Digital Health & Innovation, WHO Headquarters emphasized the need for a systematic plan for digital health framework through safe networks across stakeholders. While noting that change and consensus building is a slow process, he appreciated India’s efforts in persisting with its strategies. He proposed that digital public goods used globally can be adapted and adopted for local needs.

Manoj Jhalani, Director-UHC, WHO SEARO, Delegations from Member countries, representative from WHO Regions and International Organization, Development partners, health policy makers, digital health innovators, academicians and other stakeholders were also present at the conference.
MB Bureau

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