Transform Health’s reflections on UHC Day 2022

World leaders have less than eight years to make good on the promise of health for all by 2030. Unfortunately, we are far from being on track. Transform Health has been advocating for the digital transformation of health as a route to strengthening primary health care and accelerating progress towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

Digital tools can improve the accessibility, affordability and quality of health services, presenting enormous opportunities for advancing UHC – but only if they are developed and used in ways that are aligned with public health values and human rights.

In 2022, Transform Health’s work has focussed on enhancing two key aspects of the enabling environment for UHC in the digital age: stronger health data governance; and increased and better coordinated investments.

Regardless of their level of digital maturity or economic development, countries across the globe are already demonstrating how including digital health as part of their UHC approach can lead to expanded coverage of health services and improved health outcomes. However, efforts to assess the digital health readiness of countries have highlighted ongoing challenges for all countries in establishing an enabling environment for digital health – including appropriate governance structures, strong accountability mechanisms, regulation and policy, strategic investments, and strong political will to catalyse the equitable and sustainable digital transformation of their health systems.

In 2022, Transform Health’s work has focussed on enhancing two key aspects of the enabling environment for UHC in the digital age: stronger health data governance; and increased and better coordinated investments.

Stronger health data governance to use health data for good

As our health systems become increasingly digitalised, the amount of health data being generated, collected and stored has risen exponentially. Who determines how this data is collected, managed, used, stored and disposed of? How do we ensure ownership and control and protection of health data?

There is currently no comprehensive, globally unifying framework to guide the governance of health data. Without the right guiding framework, data can also be used to marginalise and exclude certain groups from health benefits (such as health insurance) or services (sexual reproductive health rights).

Recognising this gap, Transform Health has been calling for a global health data governance framework to mitigate some of these challenges. Such a global framework must be underpinned by human rights-based Health Data Governance Principles to ensure that individuals and communities are protected, equity remains at the centre, and primary health systems are strengthened through the effective management of our health data.

In order for such a framework to be developed, and then adapted into national contexts, health data governance must be placed on the agenda of the upcoming WHO Executive Board meeting in January 2023, and the World Health Assembly in May 2023. We have drafted a letter to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General, that has been signed by over 130 organisations to date, with this demand. The letter remains open for signatures as we build momentum towards the World Health Assembly next year.

Sign the letter demanding action for health data governance

Investing in digital health transformation

In order for countries to urgently scale up their digital health infrastructure and capacity, the funding ecosystem must identify digital transformation of health as an important path to UHC. One of Transform Health’s three key objectives is advocating for increased and better coordinated domestic and international financial investments to support the equitable, inclusive, and sustainable digital transformation of health systems in low and middle income countries, which is in line with one of the key areas to the commitment of UHC ‘Invest more, invest better – sustain public finances and harmonise health investments’ .

At the World Health Summit 2022 in Berlin, Transform Health launched a new report – Closing the digital divide: More and better funding for the digital transformation of health to frame the thinking on how to guide investments and action for digital health transformation in low- and lower-middle income countries. It lays out concrete recommendations for national governments, private sector, and international donors to increase and improve investments towards building digitally-enabled health systems that improve health outcomes for all.

The report identifies nine priority areas for digital health investments, ranging from health financing to data governance. Based on a costed estimate of these nine areas, it estimates an annual investment of 2.5 billion USD over the next five years as a minimum requirement for progress to be made towards digital health transformation in low and middle-income countries. The true investment requirement will ultimately be determined country by country, based on costed plans, and will need to be complemented by additional investment to increase digital connectivity and usage among the population, as well as investments to address the wider enabling environment.

To take forward the recommendations of the report, it was complemented by the publication of policy briefs with targeted recommendations for key stakeholders – the government, international donors and development partners and the private sector.

Read the report and policy briefs

Digital health for UHC

The digital transformation of health systems has become an integral part of the narrative on how we can advance the world’s progress towards Universal Health Coverage by 2030. With only eight years left to achieve the goal, we must think beyond the disruptive power of individual technologies and tools, and instead ensure that we have the right enabling environment for this digital transformation to be inclusive, sustainable and rights-based.

This UHC Day marks one year since Transform Health released its report The Case For Digital Health: Accelerating Progress To Achieve UHC. that addressed how digital technologies can support the achievement of UHC, but also the barriers that need to be overcome in order for the digital technologies and data to improve – and not undermine – health equity.

In September next year, The UN General Assembly (UNGA) will convene a high level meeting on UHC. It is an important opportunity to galvanise political support and global action for the digital transformation of health to achieve the UHC targets set for 2030.

Transform Health will continue to advocate for an inclusive and sustainable enabling environment at national, regional and global levels in 2023 at key moments. If you wish to get involved, email us!