Response to the Public Consultation on the Draft Health Data Management Policy

The Government of India, through the National Health Authority, released the draft Health Data Management Policy on August 26, 2020. As stated in its objectives, the Policy is meant to act as a guidance document across the National Digital Health Ecosystem (NDHE) and sets out the minimum standard for data privacy protection that should be followed across the board to ensure compliance with relevant and applicable laws, rules and regulations. The NHA sought comments and suggestions from members of the general public on this draft Policy within a short window of 1 week, subsequently increased to 21 days pursuant to an order by the Delhi High Court directing the central government to consider the concerns around the consultation process.

In 2018 the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) had constituted a committee to develop an implementation framework for the National Health Stack, in continuation of the National Health Policy, 2017’s specific goals for adopting digital technologies. This committee produced the National Digital Health Blueprint, 2019, which laid out the building blocks and an action plan with the objective of comprehensively and holistically implementing digital health in India. The Blueprint envisages the adoption of a federated rather than a centralised architecture for the management of health data to ensure the goals of interoperability, technological flexibility and independence across the NDHE.

While the Blueprint makes it clear that there are a range of associated policy frameworks – on Health IDs, data sharing, security, privacy and strategic control (outlined in Section 2.3 of the Blueprint) – that are collectively intended to address privacy, personal data protection and security considerations stemming from the NDHE, the Policy has been released as a stand-alone document for this public consultation.

We believe that in order to provide a holistic stocktaking of the Blueprint, it is essential for the public to have access to all the draft policies. This would allow for a close examination of the cross-policy elements, the overall framework guiding the digital health ecosystem, and if, and how, the policies are able to address the right to health for all. Given that the Policy presents just one facet of the Blueprint, any assessment of it is bound to be partial, at best.

Nevertheless, our submission to the NHA highlights concerns from our reading of the documents in context. The full submission to the NHA can be found here.

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