The International Day of Action for Women's Health is observed every year on May 28th to raise awareness about the global health challenges women face. This year's (2023) theme is "DigitAll: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality," highlighting the crucial role that technology can play in promoting gender equality in healthcare. In India, access to quality healthcare is a significant challenge for women, particularly those in rural areas. However, advancements in technology have the potential to bridge this gap and improve women's health outcomes.
India has made significant progress in digital health in recent years, with initiatives like the National Health Stack and the National Digital Health Mission. These initiatives aim to provide a secure and privacy-preserving ecosystem for digital health services, including electronic medical records and telemedicine. In addition, private sector players have launched several digital health applications that provide affordable and accessible healthcare services to women in urban and rural areas.
Despite these advancements, challenges remain in promoting gender equality in healthcare through technology. One significant challenge is the digital gender gap, where women have limited access to digital technology and digital literacy. According to a report by the World Bank, only 42% of women in India use the Internet compared to 58% of men. This digital gender gap directly impacts women's health outcomes, limiting their ability to access healthcare services and receive health information.
Another challenge is the potential for technology to perpetuate gender biases in healthcare. For example, digital health applications may not account for gender differences in symptoms or treatment preferences, leading to women receiving inappropriate or ineffective treatment. Moreover, digital health applications may not consider cultural and social factors that influence women's health outcomes, leading to disparities in access and quality of care.
To address these challenges and promote gender equality in healthcare, several initiatives are underway in India. One such initiative is the Digital Sakhi programme, launched by the government of India in 2020. The programme aims to increase digital literacy among women in rural areas and provide them with access to digital services, including telemedicine and e-learning. Through the programme, digital sakhi or women trainers are trained to provide digital literacy training to women in their communities.
Moreover, several private sector players are leveraging technology to provide affordable and accessible healthcare services to women in India. For example, the Pink Health app provides women with access to female doctors for consultation on reproductive health issues. Similarly, the Prantae Solutions app provides women in rural areas with access to medical experts and connects them with diagnostic centres and pharmacies in their vicinity.
In addition to these initiatives, there is a need to design technology with gender sensitivity in mind. This involves considering the different health needs and preferences of men and women and ensuring that technology is inclusive and accessible to all. For example, digital health applications should consider women's reproductive health needs and provide gender-specific health education through digital platforms.
To promote gender equality in healthcare through technology, it is crucial to prioritise policies that address the digital gender gap and ensure that digital health tools are affordable and accessible to all. Policymakers should work towards reducing the gender gap in access to digital technology and provide incentives for the development of gender-sensitive digital health tools. They should also prioritise funding for research on gender-specific health issues and provide training to healthcare providers on the use of digital health tools.
In conclusion, technology has the potential to revolutionise healthcare and promote gender equality in health outcomes. However, challenges remain in promoting gender equality in healthcare through technology, particularly in India. To overcome these challenges, initiatives such as the Digital Sakhi programme and digital health applications like Pink Health and Prantae Solutions are crucial. Policymakers and healthcare providers should work towards reducing the digital gender gap, designing gender-sensitive digital health tools, and prioritising research on gender-specific health issues. On this International Day of Action for Women's Health, let us commit to promoting.