Transform Health was at #UNGA78! We organised a high-level discussion on ‘Optimising digital health investment to deliver Universal Health Coverage’ and participated in the high-level meetings on Pandemic, Prevention, Preparedness and Response and on Universal Health Coverage , alongside numerous other side events and meetings. Some highlights and reflections below!

A call for digital health to be prioritised as a driver of UHC progress

As we approached this year’s UN General Assembly, we had a clear ask for governments and other stakeholders to make bold commitments to prioritise #DigitalHealth to deliver UHC by 2030. As we got closer to the UHC high-level meeting (UHCHLM), and the final draft of the Political Declaration was released, we responded with a joint-statement co-authored by 22 global leaders, calling for a more ambitious commitment that fully recognises the transformative potential of digital health as a key driver to accelerate progress towards UHC. 

Throughout the entire UHCHLM, there was very little mention of the key role of digital health to accelerate UHC progress. This was despite continued efforts of Transform Health and other partners, including our participation during the multi-stakeholder hearing earlier this year, feedback on the Zero Draft of the Political Declaration shared in June, and our call to action earlier this month.. 

The Political Declaration was ultimately endorsed by leaders during the High-level meeting. While it included important commitments related to digital health, we believe it could have been much more ambitious in this regard, recognising the game-changing potential of digital health transformation in achieving Health for All.. 

A high-level discussion on optimising investment for digital health transformation to achieve UHC

On 18th September, Transform Health organised an event on the sidelines of UNGA78, which convened a discussion on what is needed to improve funding for the digital transformation of health systems, including key challenges and opportunities.  

Alain Labrique, Director for the Department of Digital Health and Innovation at WHO, kicked off the session by introducing the recently launched Global Initiative on Digital Health (GIDH), which is framed around four foundational pillars to support digital health transformation. He highlighted the important role that digital health plays in the pursuit of UHC, emphasising that there is no #HealthForAll without #DigitalHealth for all. Our Executive Director, Mathilde Forslund, then gave an overview of Transform Health’s report, “Closing the Digital Divide: More and better funding for the digital transformation of health”, which looks at the challenges within the current funding landscape for digital health; provides an estimate of the funding gap; and sets out key recommendations for increased and improved investment towards building digitally-enabled health systems that can help countries achieve UHC and improve health outcomes for all. She also shared insights from the two multi-stakeholder consultations convened by Transform Health to gather perspectives on the development of the GIDH and country resource portal respectively. 

We had a fantastic l panel discussion, moderated by Pape Gaye from Baobab Institute for Health and Development. The panellists – including Derrick Muneene from WHO; Jennifer Nelson from Inter-American Development Bank; Malar Veerappan from the World Bank; and Rebecca Distler from the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation – discussed key themes such as the importance of better tracking of digital health investments at global and national levels, facilitating improved coordination through the GIDH to avoid fragmentation and duplication, and funding non-profits and others on the frontlines to enhance the resourcing landscape; among others. Transform Health’s President, Christoph Benn, closed the session by underlining the key message that digitalisation can help us achieve UHC and other health goals. 

Transform Health is committed to advocating for improved and better-coordinated digital health investment and looks forward to continuing our work with existing and new partners to drive progres, including as part of the GIDH. We will also work with our recently set up Digital Health Investment working group as a space to facilitate collaboration and ensure digital health investment is high on political agendas.

High-level meetings on #UHC and #PPPR – meaningful civil society engagement or tokenistic participation?

Through our participation in the multi-stakeholder panels of the high-level meetings on Universal Health Coverage and on Pandemic, Prevention, Preparedness and Response,we hoped to share our key asks with Member States and other key stakeholders on the important role of digital health in advancing both agendas.  However, our side-event was dwarfed by the frustration we felt at the lack of space for meaningful civil society engagement during the high-level meetings. Only six civil society organisations were given an opportunity to make an intervention from the floor during the HLM on PPPR – that’s a total of 12 minutes out of the two-hour session, ie. a mere 10% of the session. The UHCHLM was even worse, with only four civil society organisations given an opportunity to speak. The session also started late and ended early, taking away precious time that could have been used for CSOs to share their views. Moreover, conducting multi-stakeholder discussions after the Political Declarations had already been adopted, and after some of the government plenaries had already taken place, felt a little tokenistic. 

On the positive side, the civil society organisations that were given an opportunity to speak were brilliant and were able to highlight critical perspectives and issues to round the discussions well, although none of the civil society organisatonshighlighted the importance of digital health transformation as an accelerator towards UHC, along with very few governments . 

Looking ahead

Such high-level meetings are pivotal moments for member states and other stakeholders to make ambitious commitments towards achieving our goals and priorities for universal health coverage. These could have been key opportunities to recognise and prioritise the fundamental role of digital health to achieve UHC; champion health data governance and support the development of a global health data governance; and set clear actions to close the digital divide. 

Transform Health is driven by our key agendas and we will continue to work with partners to advocate for digital health transformation to achieve health for all! We now look towards the implementation of the Political Declaration, hoping for much bolder actions from governments than the words they approved in New York.