As has been widely reported in the press, Africa was declared free of wild polio in August. More than 95% of people in Africa have been immunised – a Herculean effort. However, in order to remain free from wild polio, and until such time as it is globally eradicated, countries need to ensure that vaccination efforts continue and that vaccination rates are kept up. Indeed, a very recent outbreak in Sudan (linked to the form of the virus used in the oral polio vaccine) is a stark reminder that the fight against polio in Africa is not yet over.
Ensuring adequate uptake of vaccination programmes is not just an African problem. In the UK there has been a recent decline in the uptake of the MMR vaccination (which protects against measles, mumps and rubella) in children to a level below the World Health Organisation target. This is widely thought to be responsible for the increase in measles cases in the UK. Indeed, in August 2019 the UK lost its "measles-free" designation from the World Health Organisation.
Technology has long been identified as a tool that can be harnessed to improve the world's health. Indeed, in response to the increase in measles cases in the UK and in the run up to the December 2019 general election, the Conservative Party pledged that if it won a majority it would, within 30 days of winning a majority, launch a national vaccination reminder system involving text messages and digital reminders being sent to families (with an option for postal reminders in the case of those without a digital medical record).
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair suggests that digital identity could play a role in the roll out of any eventual COVID-19 vaccine, and allow the Government to maintain a record of those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. HM Government has already announced plans to enable the use of digital identity (not just for digital health purposes) across the UK together with plans to update existing laws and issue a set of guiding principles for policy development.
A hot topic in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the development of technology solutions, from track-and-trace solutions to so-called immunity passports and workforce scheduling tools. We expect the focus on technology solutions to continue post-pandemic, as digital health becomes an area of focus for both the public and private sector.
Navigating the regulatory environment
Many of the technology solutions that have been designed and developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have raised concerns by certain groups from a privacy and data protection perspective. Issues relating to cyber security, data ethics and system governance are also critically important to consider when designing, developing and implementing digital health solutions, many of which will involve the use of highly sensitive personal data.
Our Technology, Life Sciences and Data teams are experts in advising on digital health projects for their clients. They pair best-in-class technical experts with leading lawyers and advisors, and advise on all strategic, technical, legal and regulatory matters to ensure compliance by design.