Our Health, Our Data – Digital models for disease tracking are crucial. But so are data analytic skills & privacy protection

Source: The post is based on the article “Our Health, Our Data – Digital models for disease tracking are crucial. But so are data analytic skills & privacy protection” published in The Times of India on 2nd March 2023.

Syllabus: GS-2: Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health.

Relevance: About public health surveillance.

News: Bill Gates recently mentioned the importance of effective public health surveillance and early warning systems in forestalling future pandemics.

About public health surveillance in India

Public health surveillance helps in the identification, collation and analysis of disease occurrence. It is the bedrock of national healthcare architecture.

In India, a watershed moment in public health was the outbreak of plague in Surat in 1994. The plague catalysed the creation of the National Apical Advisory Committee in 1995.

This was followed by the Integrated Disease Surveillance Project in 2004 and the Integrated Health Information Platform in 2019.

What are the present opportunities to improve public health surveillance in India?

Developments over the last two years indicate that over the next decade, digital identifiers and integrated systems will greatly expand the surveillance footprint. The unique health identifiers (UHID) for individuals and their Aadhaar data can help in improving public health surveillance in India.

These will help in creating electronic health records. These records will span private-sector healthcare providers and can be integrated with public disease surveillance programmes.

What are the challenges in creating public health surveillance in India?

-Public health institutions tracking disease occurrence based on data generated by states are the primary disease surveillance arms. But the state’s performance so far has been less optimal as they often function in silos.

-Over the next decade, having adequate skilled personnel in public health surveillance may be a bigger challenge.

For instance, WHO’s International Health Regulations are binding on members. The regulations cover chemical agents and radioactive materials. This shortage of skills is a big challenge in enforcing them.

-Health risks are no longer confined to infectious diseases.

-Digital models aren’t regulated by a robust personal data protection bill. Further, health data is sensitive and anecdotal evidence suggests that voluntary dimensions to rules on UHID are often violated.

What should be done to improve public health surveillance in India?

a) Digital models should be used to bring far-reaching changes in public health surveillance by expanding sources of data collation to the private sector, b) Public health surveillance can suffer a setback in the absence of adequate data security. Hence, the government should frame a proper data protection framework.

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