SEATTLE - Global leaders at an annual gathering of the World Health Assembly in Geneva expressed worry and optimism in almost equal measure. Delegates at the Assembly – the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO) – likened the scope of the world’s health crisis to that of the threat posed by climate change. They also agree, however, that digital technology and data will play a crucial role in accelerating efforts to achieve health for all.
In many respects, the world’s health has improved markedly in recent decades: average global life expectancy has increased by over five years, while childhood mortality has decreased by over 50 percent since 1990. Yet half the world's population still lacks full access to basic health services, and health-related expenses drive roughly 100 million people per year into poverty. The problem is particularly severe in low and middle income countries, where the financial burden of the four most frequent non-communicable diseases alone (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases) is expected to surpass US$7 trillion from 2011 to 2025, according to the WHO.
At the same time, the world is just beginning to recognize the potential of digitally enhanced data to improve health. With increased use of digital technology, we can help people stay healthy, rather than waiting for them to get sick. We can make reactive healthcare systems proactive and, thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), even predictive.
In our view, digital health is the most efficient, cost-effective way for the world to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals' health-related targets – particularly universal health coverage, whereby everyone can access the quality care tThe content herein is subject to copyright by Project Syndicate. All rights reserved. The content of the services is owned or licensed to The Yuan. The copying or storing of any content for anything other than personal use is expressly prohibited without prior written permission from The Yuan, or the copyright holder identified in the copyright notice contained in the content.