India Aims To Bridge Digital Health Divide, Says Niti Aayog’s VK Paul At G20 Meet


Dr VK Paul, a member of India’s Niti Aayog responsible for health, affirmed India’s commitment to reducing the digital health divide by promoting digital solutions and innovation to achieve universal health coverage. Speaking at an event related to the 3rd Health Working Group of G20 India on Monday, Dr Paul emphasized that India’s digital goods are intended for the world, and the country’s digital infrastructure and capabilities contribute to global economic growth and human development.

During his keynote address titled “Digital Health Innovations and Solutions to Aid Universal Health Coverage and Improve Healthcare Service Delivery,” delivered on the second day of the G20 meeting, Dr Paul reiterated India’s role as the voice of the Global South in minimising the digital health divide. He quoted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of a digital India with accessible quality healthcare even in the remotest regions, powered by e-healthcare. Dr Paul highlighted that discussions within the health working groups of G20 indicate that digital technologies can play a crucial role in achieving universal health coverage and combating health emergencies.

According to Dr Paul, digital health initiatives such as telemedicine and mobile apps can enable universal health coverage by increasing access to healthcare services irrespective of location or socio-economic status. The G20 Health Working Group is currently deliberating on the establishment of a global digital health initiative aimed at providing a platform to promote equitable access to digital tools and technologies among member countries for ensuring universal health coverage.

He emphasized the consensus among participating countries and multilateral agencies that a global system should be created to facilitate universal health coverage through technologies. He highlighted the significant role played by digital technologies in healthcare, including artificial intelligence, 5G, virtual reality, and blockchain. Dr Paul proposed the creation of a platform where digital health tools are stored in a repository and made accessible to any country or partner.

Referring to the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission as an example, Dr Paul highlighted its collaborative approach involving state governments, the Union government, laboratories, insurance providers, health tech companies, doctors, NGOs, program managers, and other stakeholders, with citizens at the centre of the endeavour. He concluded his address by envisioning a world where comprehensive digital health tools and services are accessible to all by 2035.

The G20 is currently focusing on finalizing the ministerial declaration ahead of the fourth working group ministerial meeting scheduled for August. Fifteen countries have provided written comments on the zero draft declaration circulated during the previous meeting in Goa. An official stated that discussions were held on the first draft, and delegates urged India to organize video conferencing meetings to refine the changes before the August meeting. The presidency aims to have a 90 per cent ready document ahead of the ministerial meeting.

At the meeting, Dr Christopher Elias, President of Global Development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation acknowledged the momentum in the development of lower and middle-income countries over the past decade, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Alain Labrique, an official from the World Health Organization (WHO), emphasized that the quality, efficiency, equity, and inclusion of global health systems depend on the collaborative efforts of the G20. Dr Labrique, the Director of the Department of Digital Health and Innovation at WHO, stressed the need for strategic investments and cross-border exchange of health information among member states.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan urged all countries to be adequately prepared for future pandemics and act with a sense of urgency. He called on stakeholders to come together under the theme of “One Earth, One Family, One Future,” which aligns with the India G20 Presidency’s agenda.

The 3rd Health Working Group meeting, held in Hyderabad from June 4-6 as part of the G20 India Presidency, focuses on three key priorities: health emergency prevention, preparedness, and response, with a specific focus on antimicrobial resistance and the ‘One Health’ framework; strengthening cooperation in the pharmaceutical sector, emphasizing access to safe, effective, quality, and affordable medical countermeasures; and digital health innovations and solutions to aid universal health coverage and improve healthcare service delivery.

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