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Dr Bharati Pravin Pawar discusses challenges and opportunities for digital health at BRICS Ministerial Conclave

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BRICS Digital Health Declaration adopted

Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Dr Bharati Pravin Pawar represented India at the BRICS ministerial conclave through video-conference. The panel discussed challenges and opportunities during the implementation of Digital Health.

She addressed the panel on India’s priorities towards full adoption of digital health technologies at all levels and BRICS’s strategy in building a cadre of competent health informatics professionals using a standardised curriculum across BRICS countries. India’s expectations from the development of a repository of evidence based digital technologies and innovations for health systems (under BRICS) and India’s strategic approach to sustain the gains from use of digital innovations during COVID-19 in a sustainable manner towards building health systems resilience was also discussed.

Dr Pawar acknowledged that digital health has become the priority in wake of COVID-19 pandemic. She said, “The two waves presented us with unique challenges for which an effective and humane centralized response sensitive to regional needs was warranted. The Digital health was aptly utilized to manage the pandemic and enabled us for a much more scientific and data driven approach for strengthening our response.”

Elaborating on India’s National Digital Health Blueprint as an overarching architectural framework for digital initiatives in India, she said, “We are implementing the recommendations for streamlining the digital health programmes through National Digital Health Mission (NDHM). NDHM through the issue of Unique Health ID will create a single source of truth for facilities and practitioners and lead to extension of various health services through digital mode.”

Dr Pawar informed that India’s immediate field level priorities for creating an ecosystem of digital health includes Hospital Management Information System (HMIS) implementation in all district hospitals for real time clinical management, affordable and accessible medical consultation to every citizen through telemedicine and establishing a framework for health disaster management integrating all stakeholders.

On the creation of a pool of human resource for managing pandemic digitally, the minister showcased how India leveraged iGoT (online training platform) to train more than 16 million COVID warriors across the spectrum to manage COVID which includes doctors, paramedic, nurses, community participants etc.

Dr Pawar highlighted that BRICS digital health platform is the need of the hour to ensure health data availability across BRICS countries in an interoperable manner to ensure continuum of care: “We need to work closely and collaboratively to create a repository of evidence based digital health best practices for global good. Such framework should enable data sharing and availability and help in augment the global capabilities to coordinate, capture and share data for protection from disease outbreaks like the present COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ability of the platform to leverage existing organisations and their experience like Global Digital Health Partnership, World Health Organization, G20 etc. and policy advocacy for wider as well as appropriate adoption of Digital Technologies not limiting to BRICS Countries was envisioned as India’s key expectation from this platform.

Speaking on the technologies adopted during COVID-19, she said, “We initiated a robust mechanism through a national Covid portal which integrated surveillance, testing, logistic management, data driven analytics etc. We popularized Arogya Setu and ITIHAS application – Digital Surveillance Application to source data from citizens and to predict the upcoming hotpots in the community. Arogya Setu became one of the most downloaded application with more than 201 million downloads. Similarly, to take health services to the doorstep of citizen, we are augmenting the National telemedicine platform (eSanjeevani) of India and establishing telemedicine HUBs with dedicated doctors in all districts. The HUBs will serve all facilities in their region, for both COVID & non COVID health care support.”

She also highlighted how some of these platforms will have a lasting impact on Public Health: “India is leveraging the Disease Surveillance Programme through an Integrated Health Information Platform which source real time data from facilities on 33 Epidemic Prone Diseases for community surveillance. India is undertaking the World’s largest vaccine drive and the whole effort is being managed through digital tool, Co-WIN (Winning over COVID).  Co-WIN has been declared as a global good by Government of India for adoption by any country for managing their vaccination drive, not only limiting to COVID but for conventional immunization also.”

In presence of Health Ministers of BRICS nations, BRICS Digital Health Declaration was adopted.

India being the host of the BRICS Digital Health Summit, the conclave was presided by Union Health Secretary  Rajesh Bhushan who brought focus to the wide adoption of digital health in the COVID-19 Pandemic on the spectrum that includes population surveillance, active case finding, communication with common citizens in crisis. The embarking of nations on digital technology in embracing primary universal health coverage was highlighted.

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