All eyes are on the G7 summit in 2021, hosted by the United Kingdom, where leaders from seven of the richest nations are convening to discuss recovery and rebuilding following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Digital health included as a G7 priority for the first time…
Ahead of the G7 Leaders’ Summit, G7 Health Ministers met in Oxford on 3-4 June and issued their Communiqué. For the first time, digital health was listed as a G7 priority, acknowledging the importance of digital health solutions for transforming healthcare and responding to pandemics. Within the G7’s digital health priority, data interoperability and artificial intelligence (AI) governance were identified as two areas where stronger cooperation between G7 countries is needed, particularly in the wake of COVID-19.
Transform Health, a global coalition of organisations committed to improve health futures through the use of digital technology and data sharing, welcomes the G7’s prioritisation of digital health and the recognition that stronger governance of digital technologies and data is needed.
“It is important to now match these commitments with resources and political will to ensure digital technologies and data are helping build stronger and more resilient health systems.”
“Huge volumes of data are being generated every day that could contribute to better health and well-being but they are not being harnessed due to the lack of legislation, regulation and guidelines around data management and its effective use,” says Mathilde Forslund, Executive Director of Transform Health.
“G7 health ministers’ commitments to develop open health data standards to facilitate sharing of health data, and to work with WHO and others to develop a framework to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of health tools based on AI algorithms are very timely. The G7’s activities in relation to AI governance and data interoperability should go hand-in-hand and be guided by shared norms and principles such as equity, inclusion, human rights, solidarity and accountability,” she said.
Transform Health encourages the G7 to work in partnership with other countries – particularly the G20 and the G77 – to implement these commitments so that everyone can fully benefit from digital transformations in health.
…but opportunities were missed to commit to health for all in the digital age
Though laudable in recognising the importance of digital health in transforming healthcare, G7 health ministers failed to align their discussion on digital health with the G7’s existing commitment to support the achievement of universal health coverage (UHC). The Communiqué acknowledges that the pandemic has slowed progress towards UHC but did not seize the opportunities that digital health presents to strengthen health systems and address the essential health needs of populations, both within the G7 and in low and middle-income countries.
“The G7 has repeatedly outlined its promise to help the world achieve UHC by 2030. The recognition that digital technology can contribute to this important effort is encouraging. It is important to now match these commitments with resources and political will to ensure digital technologies and data are helping build stronger and more resilient health systems able to narrow health inequalities and expand UHC,” says Forslund.
G7 leaders must commit to digitally transform health systems to support UHC
When G7 leaders meet in Carbis Bay later this week, Transform Health urges them to extend deliberations on digital health beyond the role of technologies in supporting pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response to focus on maximising the contributions – and mitigating the risks – of digital for health and well-being more broadly, including a focus on the most vulnerable such as women, children and adolescents.
“Its digital health interventions, especially in LMICs, must consult and take the lead from national, local and community experts to supplement existing and emerging good practices in these contexts.”
“The G7 needs to support the drive towards accelerating the digital transformation of health systems, particularly in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), to ensure they can deliver UHC. Its digital health interventions, especially in LMICs, must consult and take the lead from national, local and community experts to supplement existing and emerging good practices in these contexts,” says Nanjira Sambuli, President of Transform Health.
As part of a comprehensive effort to build back better after COVID-19, and to accelerate progress towards UHC and the Sustainable Development Goals, Transform Health encourages the G7 to work domestically and internationally, in collaborative and multi stakeholder partnerships, to close the digital divide and invest in digitally-enabled health systems.