Impacts of Digital inequality on Health and Education

Synopsis: Digital inequality or Unequal access to digital platform is worsening inequalities in accessing public goods such as Education and Health.

Facts on Digital inequality in India
  • Inequality in access to digital devices: According to National Sample Survey (2017), only 6% of rural households and 25% of urban households have a computer.
  • Inequality in access to Internet Services: Only 17% in rural areas and 42% in urban areas have access to internet.
  • Due to the prevailing inequality in digital access, the digital solutions offered for providing basic services such as health and education have failed.
Reasons behind Digital inequality in education 
  • Lack of access to online classes: According to the Azim Premji Foundation, ASER and Oxfam report, between 27% and 60% could not access online classes, due to lack of devices, shared devices, inability to buy “data packs”, etc.
  • Loss of Lives: a college student studying in Delhi and a 16-year-old in Goa died by suicide as their family could not afford to repair the phone they used.
  • Lack of learning environment at home: a quiet space to study is a luxury for many. For instance, 25% of Indians lived in single-room dwellings in 2017-19. Further, girls at home are burdened with domestic chores.
  • Advantages in Peer learning is forgiven: For instance, even students with issues in English language found easy to pick up the language with the help of peers. Now, online education has deprived them this advantage.
Reasons behind Digital inequality in health

India’s Poor population is at a disadvantage in accessing good health care due to the following reasons,

  • One, very low public spending on health (nearly 1% of GDP). This has contributed to the high share of ‘out of pocket’ (OOP) health expenditure in India was over 60% in 2018.
    • Even in the United States, where health system is highly privatised, OOP was merely 10%.
  • Two, the private health sector in India is poorly regulated. As a result, they charge exorbitant prices and has contributed towards the development of black market for scarce services
  • Three, shortage of essentials such as drugs, hospital beds, oxygen, vaccines etc.,

To overcome the above challenges, the government chose to promote Digital health services as a solution. However, digital health services have resulted in unequal access to health care due to the following reason.

  • Exclusion: Platform- and app-based solutions can exclude the poor entirely thereby denying their right to access health care. For instance,
  • People with knowledge of technology are at advantage to access digital health services, compared to the vulnerable populations without digital knowledge. For example, in the case of CoWIN, it is much harder for people without phones, computers, and the Internet to book slots.
  • Language barrier: The website is only available in English, restricting the use for the mass non-English population.
  • Privacy violation: For example, the push towards digital health ID databases may result in health records being used by private entities without our consent.
Way forward
  • Need to increase spending on health to 3% of GDP to reduce 50% of out-of-pocket expenditure as per Economic survey 2021.
  • Need to enforce laws against medical malpractices strictly.
  • The Centre needs to ensure Patient privacy. Decentralized digital storage followed in countries like France and Taiwan should be created rather than creating a centralized database for digital health records.

Source: The Hindu


 

 

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