“Digital health” is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as describing digital technologies used for health promotion, health service delivery, supply chain management, health financing, human resource management and data services. The digital health sector is growing rapidly, with new pilots and initiatives attracting significant investment from the public and private sectors.
International agencies actively promote the digital transformation for development; in 2020, the World Health Assembly approved a Global Strategy on Digital Health 2020-2025, which committed member states to develop and implement national digital health strategies. However, UN human rights experts have also raised concerns about related threats to human rights and have called for more robust and rights-based digital governance.
In November 2022, the Digital Health and Rights Project launched a new report, which investigates how young adults in Ghana, Kenya and Vietnam experience the digital transformation in health, and what they see as the effect on their human rights. In particular, the study explores the tensions between the benefits and risks to young peoples’ right to health and other human rights, and identifies areas for policy action.
The study utilised qualitative methods and a transnational participatory action research (PAR) approach, in which the communities being studied participated in the design, implementation and analysis of the study. The research team included academic social scientists working in collaboration with staff of national community-led networks, human rights groups, and civil society organisations.
Research included focus group discussions with 174 young adults in seven cities across all three countries and 33 key informant interviews with UN officials, government officials, tech experts, and civil society leaders. While the research drew on the infrastructure and experience of global and national networks of people living with HIV, the study looked broadly at HIV, SRH, Covid-19, and other related human rights concerns.
The findings from the study show both significant empowerment potential and significant risks in the digital transformation of health. In particular, it shows that young people increasingly rely on their mobile phones to access health information and services through Google searches, social media networks (such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok), and social chat groups (such as WhatsApp). The full report is available here.
The findings that emerged were discussed at a webinar with researchers, health advocates, social media influencers and experts from the WHO. You can view the recording here.