By Anurag Agrawal
With half a billion people in India needing far better access to high quality essential health services, the country’s growing digital expertise and infrastructure offer much scope to help improve lives. Yet it is also clear that the potential for innovation must be matched by careful governance. Almost 400m people in India have smartphones, half a billion use the internet regularly, and mobile data costs are a tenth of the global average. Aadhaar, the Indian digital universal ID, a system of biometrically verifiable unique identification numbers, is now available to most of the country’s residents. India has strong medical, technological and applied research institutions such as the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences, Indian Institutes of Technology and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. The country’s healthy democracy — the largest in the world — provides accountability. There is a big shortage of trained physicians and nurses, but the many auxiliary health workers available means there is a great opportunity to use artificial intelligence and other technologies to support medical staff in their work. Yet concerns about the applications of technology are emerging, not least over privacy, accountability and equality of access in order not to leave the poor behind. A new joint Lancet and Financial Times Commission, chaired by Ilona Kickbusch of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva and me, is exploring these challenges.