Digital health rights simply means the adoption of the global human rights principles and standards while using technologies for health. According to Health and Human Rights journal, the adoption of digital technologies for health must align with the right to health. Enshrined in several human rights treaties, the right to health outlines four key elements: availability, accessibility,
acceptability, and quality. The use of digital technologies for health must, at minimum, satisfy these four key elements.
Digital health rights are vital in Uganda because digital technologies are key players in the plan to improve access to health information and services, enhance quality of health care, empower patients and communities, and support public health interventions. However, we should remember that the use of technologies in the health sector can cause a number of challenges and risks towards human rights, as they tend to violate the right to privacy, security, consent, accountability, equity, and non-discrimination.
Uganda is a key player in digital health in Africa, with a vibrant ecosystem of government, partners, private sector, academia, civil society, and users. With support from numerous partners, the Ministry of Health launched a strategic plan to guide the development and implementation of digital health solutions in the country which is put to question whether it can meetup with the speed at which technology is evolving and being used. The plan aims to address data quality and late reporting, institutionalize the use of patient-level digital systems at the point of care, and provide a blueprint for digital health innovation and research.
However, Uganda also faces many challenges and gaps in digital health, such as inadequate infrastructure, connectivity, equipment, and power supply; lack of skilled and motivated human resources; lack of robust governance, regulation, and standards; lack of meaningful engagement and collaboration; and lack of constant monitoring and evaluation.
These challenges and gaps have implications for digital health rights, as evidenced by some cases where people have lost their lives due to failure in the digital health systems. For example:
- Ms Angel Nakasango died in an ambulance after being denied admission by three private hospitals that demanded exorbitant upfront payments for COVID-19 treatment.
- Mr John Bosco died of COVID-19 after being misdiagnosed by a private laboratory that used a faulty rapid antigen test kit.
- Ms Sarah Nalwoga died of postpartum hemorrhage after giving birth at a health center that lacked electricity, equipment, and blood transfusion services.
These cases illustrate the need for ensuring that digital health rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled in Uganda. This requires that governments and other actors align the adoption and use of digital technologies for health with the right to health and its four key elements: availability, accessibility, acceptability, and quality.
With the employment of technologies in the health sector, it is urgently required that people are educated and given a platform to openly participate in decision making processes concerning their digital health. The use of digital health demands that there are effective mechanisms for oversight, accountability, and remedy for any violations or abuses of digital health rights.
Digital health rights not only consider ethics or morality, but also a bigger focus of law and policy.
In Uganda there are numerous laws such as the Data Protection Act, Computer Misuse Act and policies that regulate various aspects that in one way or another are connected to digital health, such as data protection, cybercrime, e-government, e-health strategy, etc.
However, there are still gaps and inconsistencies in the legal and policy framework for digital health rights in Uganda. For example:
- There is no specific law or policy on digital health rights or e-health governance in Uganda.
- There is no clear definition or scope of digital health or e-health in Uganda.
- There is no comprehensive data protection law or authority in Uganda.
- There is no specific regulation or standard for digital health technologies or services in Uganda.
- There is no clear mechanism or procedure for redress or remedy for violations or abuses of digital health rights in Uganda.
These gaps and irregularities need to be addressed urgently as they have posed threats to human rights especially health rights and to ensure that digital health rights are effectively protected and promoted in Uganda.
This possibly requires joint participation of all stakeholders such as government, partners, private sector, academia, civil society, and users. It also requires a human rights-based approach that puts people at the center of digital health development and implementation.
Digital health rights should not be looked at negatively but also with the positive side offering opportunities if the technologies used in the health sector clearly respect human dignity, promotes social justice, Uganda can therefore enhance the benefits of digital health for improving the health outcomes and well-being of all people. Digital health rights can also contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal 3 on ensuring healthy lives and well-being for all at all ages.
Digital health rights are not a luxury or an option but a necessity and an obligation for Uganda and all its people as they are key in ensuring that all people regardless of location and economic status are not left behind towards sustainable development and health values.