Latin American Parliamentarians and PAHO seek to advance laws that accelerate the digital transformation of the health sector

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Buenos Aires/Washington DC, December 2020 (PAHO/WHO) - PAHO and representatives of the Health Commissions of the Parliaments of the Americas agreed to move forward on enacting laws that will accelerate the digital transformation of the health sector in the post-pandemic era.

The commitment was made at the VI Congress of the Health Commissions of the Parliaments of the Americas on "The digital transformation for the improvement of public health decisions, opportunities and parliamentary challenges," organized by the National Congress of Argentina and PAHO/WHO, which serves as technical secretariat.

"Health and rights are an important area of intersection that needs to be strengthened,” said Mario Fiad, president of the Health Commission of the Senate of Argentina. “The era of digital health has no frontiers. Technology provides us with tools to further this important development through solid regulatory frameworks that we should and must implement,” said Fiad, who hosted the event with Pablo Yedlin, president of the Social Action and Public Health Commission of the Chamber of Deputies of Argentina.

Senator Fiad pointed out that since last August, Argentina has had a law on electronic or digital prescriptions that enables health professionals to prescribe medicines electronically and allows pharmacies to sell them electronically. In addition, a bill that seeks to digitize clinical records and another that will regulate the provision of telemedicine are pending approval in Argentina.

Organized for the first time in virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the VI Congress of Health Commissions of the Americas brought together congress members from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic and Uruguay.

The meeting consisted of three seminars where the parliamentarians discussed the main challenges and gaps in legal instruments for digital health, the agenda for connectivity and legislation, and the digital health and rights approach.

The event concluded with the Declaration of Argentina, a call to the heads of state and governments of the Americas to adopt concrete measures that will enable them to:

  • implement public policies and regulatory instruments that enable inclusive digital health with emphasis on the most vulnerable;
  • ensure universal connectivity in the health sector by 2030;
  • implement health information systems that are comprehensive, interoperable, reliable, and cybersecure, and that are based on ethical and legal standards for data management;
  • mainstream human rights in all areas of the digital transformation of the health sector;
  • implement an architecture of public health in accordance with the era of digital interdependence and global health;
  • promote spaces for the exchange of successful experiences and cooperation in the field of digital health, with the aim of promoting the digital health transformation with strong legislative and regulatory support.

"COVID-19 has demonstrated both the challenges faced by health systems in responding to populations’ health needs and the role that digital technologies have in addressing these challenges in the regional agenda, leaving no one behind," said Sebastian Garcia Saiso, PAHO’s director of the Department of Evidence and Intelligence for Action in Health. "This must be a permanent effort that allows us to solve the challenges and close the gaps that exist and persist in our health care systems – not only in emergencies but also through future change.”

Ignacio Ibarra, from the Office of the Legal Advisor of PAHO/WHO and technical coordinator of the event, added that PAHO will work with the parliamentarians "to ensure that the necessary regulatory instruments to support the process of digital transformation of the health sector are a reality in the short term, always taking into account people's rights.”

The parliamentarians attending the event also agreed to continue strengthening the Network of Parliamentarians for Health, which continues to add members from health committees of the region's parliaments and from other committees that address issues related to digital health.

The VI Congress of Health Committees of the Parliaments of the Americas also included the participation of regional integration organizations such as the Caribbean Community, the Andean Regional Health Organization, the Caribbean Public Health Agency, the Central American and Andean Parliaments as well as networks of legislators such as the Parliamentary Front against Tuberculosis and the Hemispheric Network of Parliamentarians for Early Childhood.