Reflections by Mathilde Forslund & Kirsten Mathieson at Transform Health in preparation for UNGA78

The 78th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA78) is set to commence on Tuesday, 5th September 2023, with the high-level week kicking off on the 18th. This year’s UNGA will focus on global solidarity to accelerate action on the 2030 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress, and sustainability for all. Concurrently, a High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) will take place on the sidelines of UNGA78 on 21st September with the theme ‘Expanding our ambition for health and well-being in a post-COVID world. 

The outbreak of COVID-19 acted as a catalyst, compelling governments across the world to intensify their usage of digital health tools, technologies, and solutions to tackle public health issues. During the pandemic, and increasingly in the post-pandemic world, we saw the immense potential offered by digital health and data-led solutions to enhance delivery of primary healthcare and accelerate progress towards UHC by 2030. 

This year’s UHC High-Level Meeting will be a pivotal moment and platform to ensure digital health is prioritised as a key driver to achieve UHC by 2030. Building political consensus and an enabling environment for digital health transformation are critical. And as we undertake this transformation, we must ensure that equity and human-rights are at the forefront of the digitisation of health systems, ensuring that we are reducing disparities and leaving no one behind, particularly the most marginalised and neglected communities.  

Transform Health – a global coalition of 150+ organisations – participated in the multi-stakeholder hearing on UHC convened by the President of the United Nations General Assembly in May. The hearing provided a platform for a diverse set of stakeholders to express their aspirations for the Political Declaration, which is set to be endorsed by world leaders at the 2023 UHC HLM. Transform Health underscored the vital role of equitable, inclusive, and sustainable digital transformation of health systems to achieve health for all. 

While the zero draft of the Political Declaration that came out following the multi-stakeholder hearing included reference to digital health, it was framed more as a vertical health intervention. The Declaration didn’t go far enough in recognising the transformative potential of digital health as an integral part of all health systems and an accelerator of UHC progress. Transform Health issued recommendations on the zero draft, stressing the need for greater prioritisation of digital health, stronger health data governance, and increased and better-coordinated funding for digital health transformation. 

We welcome the zero draft of the Political Declaration on UHC that was published in July, following negotiation by Member States. The latest draft emphasises ‘Innovation & Digital Health’, however, we feel that greater prioritisation of digital health as a key accelerator to achieve UHC by 2030 can still be strengthened, while highlighting concrete actions for Member States and other stakeholders to take this agenda forward.

As governments meet at this year’s UNGA, including the High-level meeting on UHC, we urge them to make bold commitments to deliver health for all. In the digital age, this means going beyond the status quo, recognising the transformative potential that digital and data-drive solutions offer. Transform Health is calling on governments and other stakeholder to: 

  1. Prioritise digital health transformation as a cross-functional enabler and accelerator to achieving UHC by 2030, rather than a siloed vertical health issue.
  2. Champion health data governance and call for the development of a global framework to establish a set of common regulatory standards (for subsequent endorsement by governments at the World Health Assembly in May 2023), to strengthen national legislation and regulation and govern health data sharing across countries.
  3. Ensure a global health data governance framework is developed through a transparent and inclusive multistakeholder process (with the meaningful engagement of civil society) and underpinned by equity and rights-based Health Data Governance Principles. We call on governments to endorse the Principles, which provide a foundation for the development of a global framework and should inform national legislation, regulation and policies.
  4. Increase and better target funding for digital health, to support the equitable, inclusive, sustainable digital transformation of health systems, as part of wider health system investment to deliver UHC. Ensure funding is coordinated and aligned with national priorities.
  5. Develop national costed digital health strategies as an integral component of UHC and health system strengthening agendas. Strategies should be developed, implemented and monitored in an inclusive and participatory manner, with the involvement of all relevant stakeholders.
  6. Establish a strong national regulatory and policy environment to guide the digital transformation of the health system so that it is inclusive, equitable and sustainable. This is important to establish what kind of digitalised health system a country needs to achieve UHC.
  7. Strengthen mechanisms for meaningful multi-stakeholder engagement at all levels of planning, strategy, execution and monitoring to ensure the digital transformation is effective in improving health outcomes and accelerating UHC progress. This must include the meaningful engagement of civil society, youth, women and marginalised and hard-to-reach communities.
  8. Close the divide in digital access, prioritising strategic, targeted and coordinated actions to ensure this happens. This is a prerequisite for equitable access to technology-enabled health services. This means confronting coverage gaps, affordability and digital literacy.

Join us in New York by participating in our side event: Transform Health and partners are convening a high-level discussion on the Global Initiative on Digital Health and country resource portal, and how we can better optimise investment and alignment to accelerate UHC progress. Visit the event page for more details and to register your attendance by the 13th of September. Get in touch to schedule a meeting and learn more about Transform Health.