This article has been written by Naveen Rao, Senior Vice President of the Health Initiative at The Rockefeller Foundation.

India’s innovative approach to healthcare has emerged as an inspiring and instructive model. When India initiated its Covid-19 vaccination campaign in January 2021, the scale of the undertaking was monumental. The challenge of vaccinating approximately 900 million adult citizens with two doses of the vaccine within an unprecedented 12-to-18-month timeframe required meticulous planning and swift action. By July 2022, India had successfully administered over two billion vaccine doses. This remarkable achievement can be attributed to the visionary leadership of the government and its unwavering commitment to building a robust digital healthcare infrastructure.

This commitment was exemplified by the National Digital Health Blueprint 2019, which outlined a comprehensive strategy for the integration of digital health solutions across India. This blueprint paved the way for the introduction of the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The emergence of digital health has played a pivotal role in facilitating accessible, affordable, high-quality, and timely healthcare services, thereby advancing the cause of universal health coverage. The lessons learned from the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic have emphasized the need to transition from a fragmented approach to a more integrated adoption of digital health solutions. Collaborative engagement among global stakeholders is essential to drive the widespread adoption of proven solutions, leverage available resources, and overcome the challenges associated with sustained implementation of digital solutions, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

India’s position in the global digital health arena extends beyond its success in vaccine distribution, demonstrating its ability to leverage technology as a catalyst for healthcare transformation. Amid the pandemic, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare introduced pioneering telemedicine guidelines, establishing a robust framework for telemedical practices and ensuring uninterrupted access to quality healthcare for all, regardless of global disruptions. These guidelines have facilitated care for up to 150 million patients to date. Similarly, the ABDM is committed to providing solutions that span patient engagement, data analysis, claim management, and disease oversight. It also streamlines outpatient registrations, reducing extended wait times for thousands of patients. With over 445 million Ayushman Bharat Health Accounts (ABHA) and 298.9 million linked health records, ABDM’s primary goal is to strengthen healthcare services and ensure that citizens have ownership of their healthcare data. These initiatives illustrate the power of digital health technologies in dismantling conventional healthcare barriers. India’s advancements in digital health also reflect its comprehensive investment in public digital infrastructure and universal internet access, both integral to nurturing a comprehensive health ecosystem that elevates health outcomes.

This wealth of experience has led India’s G20 presidency to prioritize digital health as a key focus, catalyzing a global discussion on the transformative potential of scaling digital health innovations. Notable national initiatives, such as digital health passports, coupled with innovations like predictive analytics and personalized medicine, underscore the recognition by nations, technology giants, and healthcare entities of digital health’s potential to complement traditional systems. However, as the world moves toward this aspiration, significant challenges persist. The global digital health landscape is marked by an unequal distribution of transformative solutions, and proprietary systems and copyright barriers hinder integration. In the absence of global standards, digital solutions often remain isolated. Despite these formidable challenges, they also present opportunities for the global community to come together, converge, and formulate a comprehensive digital health blueprint.

During the 76th World Health Assembly, India’s Union Health Minister, Dr. Mansukh Mandaviya, outlined India’s global health vision. His focus on health emergency preparedness, access to medical countermeasures, and the importance of digital health laid out a roadmap for universal health coverage. His endorsement of the Global Initiative for Digital Health underscores the need to address the digital divide and democratize digital tools to enhance Universal Health Coverage, improve healthcare quality, and ensure access on a global scale. The World Health Organization’s digital health strategies further emphasize the importance of integrating digital tools into health responses to strengthen health systems.

As India’s G20 presidency comes to a close, sustained efforts are crucial to maintain this momentum. India remains committed to the World Health Organization’s “Health for All” mission, embracing the spirit of “Antyodya” – reaching every individual. Given the complexities and expansiveness of the digital health landscape, it is a resource-intensive solution that no single entity can navigate alone. Inevitable setbacks and criticisms will arise, requiring recalibration and learning from past mistakes. Philanthropic organizations, governmental and non-governmental bodies, academic institutions, and regulatory agencies must collaborate in this pursuit. Their collaboration is essential not only to make healthcare affordable and accessible but also to design health systems that prioritize intangibles such as privacy and dignity. Pledges of support from various international organizations exemplify the potential of such partnerships, driven by a shared vision.

To fully harness the potential of digital health technologies, nations and organizations must embrace digital health as a public good that transcends borders, realizing the promise of universal healthcare.

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