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Virtual Health for All

Without thoughtful stewardship, the pandemic-induced global boom in virtual health services could create a digital divide that exacerbates existing inequities. But by asking the right questions, countries can realize the potential of new technologies, reach the formerly excluded, and achieve health for all.

BASEL – The COVID-19 pandemic has sharply accelerated the use of digital technologies in the health sector. For many who could no longer obtain in-person care, access to virtual health services became a matter of life and death.

This revolution will not end when the pandemic does. But without thoughtful stewardship, a digital divide could exacerbate health inequities. Above all, guiding the future of virtual health so that no one is left behind requires us to learn from the past 18 months and ask the right questions.

From its earliest months, the pandemic triggered a massive shift to virtual health services. In France, the number of telehealth consultations increased from 40,000 to 4.5 million between February and April 2020. In India, online health consultations among people over 50 increased by 502% last year. Global investment in digital health doubled year on year in 2020, to $21.6 billion. And non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations – from the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development to the World Health Organization – deepened their focus on the issue.

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