Panaji: With India assuming the G20 presidency, the country’s focus on digital health can serve as a model for other countries to replicate or initiate similar programmes which can accelerate their own digital health initiatives and improve health outcomes for their populations, a senior United Nations official said on Wednesday.Dr Karin Kallander, senior health adviser and chief of the Digital Health and Information Systems Unit in UNICEF Health Programme, said some potential strategies for replicating India‘s digital health interventions in other countries include developing a comprehensive digital health strategy, building a supportive regulatory environment and fostering public-private partnerships. She was speaking at the second G20 health working group meeting here.
“India’s success in digital health can be attributed to a well-defined digital health strategy that aligns with the country’s health priorities. Other countries can replicate this approach by developing their own comprehensive digital health strategies that align with their specific health needs and goals,” Karin said.
This may involve setting clear objectives, identifying key stakeholders, defining implementation plans, and establishing governance structures.
India has created a supportive regulatory environment for digital health interventions by developing policies and regulations that facilitate innovation, privacy, and security which can be replicated by other countries.
She said the country also has leveraged public-private partnerships to accelerate the development and implementation of digital health interventions which again can be replicated by countries by fostering collaborations between government, private sector, civil society, academia, and other stakeholders to harness their respective strengths and resources.
Besides, India’s digital health interventions have prioritised interoperability and data exchange among different health systems and stakeholders. India has invested in capacity building and training of healthcare workers, including digital literacy and skills development.
India’s digital health interventions have aimed to address equity and inclusivity by reaching vulnerable and marginalsed populations. India’s experience in digital health can offer valuable best practices and lessons learned for other countries to replicate or adapt to their own context.
“It’s important to learn from India’s successes and challenges in digital health implementation and leverage those insights to inform the design and implementation of similar programs in other countries,” she said.
On how technology helped in India, especially during COVID-19, in accessing remote areas for vaccinations and immunising a massive population, Karin said during the pandemic, immunisation programmes faced significant challenges worldwide.
However, the utilisation of technology to reach remote areas and immunise a large population varied across countries.
India has a massive population and a well-established universal immunisation programme. During the pandemic, the Indian government utilised technology, such as the CoWIN platform, to register and schedule COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible individuals. CoWIN enabled online registration, appointment scheduling, and tracking of vaccination status, which helped in managing the immunisation programme at scale, Karin said.
The United States faced challenges in the initial phases of COVID-19 vaccination due to limited vaccine supply and distribution issues.
However, technology was utilised to set up mass vaccination sites, online appointment scheduling, and tracking of vaccine doses administered.
Israel, she said, had a rapid and successful COVID-19 vaccination programme, leveraging technology, including a centralised digital health record system and a national vaccination registry.
Low-income countries faced significant challenges in their immunisation programmes during COVID-19 due to limited resources, weak health systems, and logistical constraints.
However, some countries utilised innovative approaches, including the use of mobile technologies, community health workers, and outreach programs, to reach remote areas and deliver vaccines to vulnerable populations.
These efforts often required overcoming infrastructure limitations and addressing equity concerns to ensure access to vaccines for all, she said.
“The India story may be unique due to the massive scale of its immunisation programme, the utilisation of the CoWIN platform, and the extensive use of mobile vans and outreach programmes to reach remote and underserved areas. Despite challenges, India has made significant progress in vaccinating a large population during the COVID-19 pandemic, leveraging technology to overcome logistical constraints and ensure access to vaccines for vulnerable populations,” Karin said.
“What is also unique is that India is now extending the scope of the CoWin platform to cover services for children and pregnant women under a new name – U-win,” she said.
These types of systems fortracking services for vulnerable populations will, if possibly, have even larger health impacts than systems set up just for COVID-19, and India is one of the first countries to start planning to deploy such a system at scale, she stated.