~ Mathilde Forslund, Executive Director, Transform Health

Transform Health recently participated in the multi-stakeholder hearing on universal health coverage (UHC) organised at the UN headquarters from 8-9 May in New York. The hearing was part of UN’s high-level meetings on UHC, TB and pandemic prevention and preparedness in 2023 and was attended by representatives and advocates from a diverse range of non-state actors, including civil society, communities, youth groups, health and care workers, parliamentarians and local government networks, foundations, academia and the private sector. The hearing allowed a range of partners to make statements about their hopes and ambitions for the outcomes of the UN High-Level Meeting on UHC, which will be held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September. The one and a half day hearing aimed to inform and shape the themes of the multi-stakeholder panels of the High-Level Meeting.

Transform Health was invited to share perspectives during the meeting – on behalf of more than 130+ coalition partners – calling for digital health and health data governance to be prioritised, as key components of achieving the Sustainable Development Goal on UHC. Innovative approaches are urgently needed to get back on track to achieve UHC by 2030. This includes unlocking the potential of digital technologies and data to strengthen health systems, and scale up access to primary health care services.

Digital health is already an important and growing part of most health systems and offers a huge opportunity to accelerate progress towards UHC. As we harness this opportunity, we must ensure that equity and human rights are central to the digital transformation of health systems, to ensure that we are closing, rather than widening, health equity gaps.

Promising outlook

During the hearing, we were encouraged by the statement of the Government of Indonesia, which highlighted that ‘digitalisation of the health sector is the key driver to achieve UHC’. We also heard from the private sector constituency, represented by Olseya Struck from Royal Philips, who emphasised the need for primary care to be co-designed and co-invested in to achieve UHC at scale. She called for stakeholders across different sectors to partner faster at scale, identifying investable solutions and to cover investment needs through blended finance. 

What is missing?

The multi-stakeholder hearing emphasised that UHC is not just about health, but critical also to drive broader socio-economic development and reduce inequities. However, there was a lack of sufficient emphasis on the transformative role that digital technology and innovation can play in achieving UHC. The recently launched Action Agenda on UHC by the UHC2030 Movement, mentions digital health and highlights the importance of adopting enabling laws and regulations that create an enabling environment for use of health technologies and innovations that will strengthen future economic and social resilience. 

Whilst this is important, we are missing a stronger focus on digital health transformation as an accelerator of UHC. Transform Health is calling on Member States and the UN to prioritise investments in digital health and health data governance to strengthen health systems and scale up access to primary healthcare. Specifically, we want to see action to:

  1. Prioritise digital health transformation as an accelerator to UHC, rather than a siloed health issue. 
  2. Close the divide in digital access, including coverage gaps, affordability and digital literacy. We need a digitally-enabled workforce that can keep up with innovation in health and deliver care that reaches even the most marginalised groups.
  3. Increase, and better target and coordinate funding for digital health as part of wider investment to deliver UHC.
  4. Establish a strong national regulatory and policy environment to ensure the digital transformation of the health system and use of data are inclusive, equitable, sustainable and promote human rights. 
  5. Develop and endorse a global health data governance framework that governs how data is used, owned, managed and shared within- and across borders. Transform Health calls on governments to formally endorse the Health Data Governance Principles (already endorsed by more than 140 organisations and governments), which lay the foundation for a global framework. 
  6. Strengthen mechanisms for meaningful multi-stakeholder engagement at all levels of planning, strategy, execution and monitoring, and particularly ensuring the inclusion of especially youth, women and marginalised communities . 

Prioritising digital health and health data governance in the High-level meeting Political Declaration

A Political Declaration will be endorsed by Member States at the High Level Meeting in September. We must ensure that the declaration addresses  the critical role that digital health and health data governance play in accelerating progress towards Universal Health Coverage 2030. A draft declaration is currently being negotiated by governments, with the zero draft recently shared for feedback. This is an important window of opportunity to ensure these issues are prioritised. 

We believe that digital health should not be viewed only as a health vertical, but rather very much as an accelerator to achieve health for all. Digital health and data-led solutions, governed under a global health data governance framework, have far-reaching impacts and can play a transformative role to enable more equitable health systems – towards achieving Universal Health Coverage. 

What is next?

In order to sustain political commitments and encourage greater investments in digitally-transformed health systems, it is critical that the final political declaration recognises the role of digital health transformation in driving UHC progress and sets out concrete actions for Member States and other stakeholders to take this forward. 

In the lead up to UNGA77, as the political declaration is getting finalised, it is important that partners and stakeholders strongly advocate for digital health transformation to be given a more salient position to help achieve UHC 2030.


Relevant resources