UN calls for private sector to play its part in beating health inequality

Dr Ahmed El Saeed, Focal Area Lead at the United Nations Global Pulse Finland, Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General, said: “International development is everybody’s business. You can do business and do good, and this is a message to the private sector, there is a very important role for the private sector to play in building back better and fairer.”

He was speaking at the ‘Tackling Health Inequalities: Levelling-up Beyond COVID-19’ closing keynote session. Panel members also included Dr Deborah Maufi, Chief Medical Officer at Babymoon Care, the Netherlands and Lord Victor Adebowale, Chair, NHS Confederation, UK. The session was moderated by Denise Hines from HIMSS.

WHY IT MATTERS?

The pandemic has exacerbated long-standing social, economic and political inequalities, together with health inequalities, according to Dr Deborah Maufi.

ON THE RECORD

El Saeed said there was a significant digital divide: “Not everybody has access to good internet service or data access or is able to actually utilise some of the services that have migrated at a quick pace to a virtual format.

Many of the healthcare services were not even accessible to many people before now, becoming more and more difficult because they cannot access them, also virtually.  So, the digital divide is also something to be highlighted here because we do not want to see the digital divide becoming the new web of social injustice.”

Lord Victor Adebowale outlined three key data challenges: “My concern is that some of the algorithms may be disproportionately impactful on certain communities, certain ethnic groups, usually people who are poor at the sharp end of the inverse care law, the care law that states that those people in most need of health and social care tend to get it the least.

The second challenge around data is analysis and the use of data to manage population health, health stratification, predictive health…And the third challenge is around service design…How do we use data to design services that are accessible and equitable, particularly for those people who need those services the most?”  

According to El Saeed, Finland has passed a law regulating the secondary use of social data and has established a national body that governs data use, allowing access to anonymised data. He added the UN was working with Member States on creating guidelines on concepts like data networks, which could create benefits without threatening privacy.

Adebowale said Sweden was also ahead of the field: “If you look at Sweden, which is known for having the smallest inequality gap in Europe, it has a strategy to have superfast broadband to all households by 2025. And the level of access for the remaining 5% and their starting point, it has to be, how does everyone benefit?”

“A lot of efforts are being made around providing internet access to households or digital tools…but even if we have all this in place, we cannot provide digital health literacy. It is very important that people actually have the skills to operate this technology if we want to bridge the gaps that cause inequalities,” said Maufi.

Despite the challenges, El Saeed closed on a positive note: “We are now at the crossroads and have an opportunity to have a more inclusive healthcare system that is modernised, relies on digital health products, but is also very much quality orientated and people-centric.”

Access the ‘Tackling Health Inequalities: Levelling-up Beyond Covid-19’ session from the #HIMSS21Europe Digital Conference 2021 ‘On Demand’.

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