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Centre to repurpose CoWIN, Arogya Setu for other health purposes, says NHA Chief R S Sharma

The Central Government is repurposing digital health platforms Arogya Setu and Co-WIN to address certain health issues in the country, said R S Sharma, CEO of the National Health Authority (NHA), at the inauguration session of Arogya Manthan 2022 on Sunday. This step is a part of the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM). 

How will Arogya Setu be used? 

The application will be relaunched as a “health and wellness application” with “Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) compliant features”. One of the features will help users to avoid queuing up for OPD cards by allowing them to scan a QR code, to provide the information they would get at the counter, Sharma explained. 

Arogya Setu had been launched as a contact-tracing app to identify covid-19 positive patients for contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.


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How will Co-WIN be used? 

“Co-WIN is being repurposed for Universal Immunisation Programme,” said R S Sharma. All the 12 essential vaccination programs will be done through Co-WIN, he added. Sharma also said they’re “repurposing it to become the small doctor’s Health Management Information System(HMIS).”

Co-WIN primarily helped users register their vaccine appointments during covid-19. It’s an “IT solution for planning, implementation and monitoring of covid-19 vaccinations in India,” Co-WIN’s website states

Why it matters

Co-WIN and Arogya Setu collected the health data of millions of individuals for specific purposes such as contact tracing and vaccine registration. However, now the government says that this data will be used for “other” health purposes as well. It raises serious questions on if there are any limits to the purpose for which this data can be used. The government claims such steps will help improve the healthcare system but it is important to protect sensitive health information from being misused, leaked or hacked as well. 

Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission: Current state and future plans

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For users, ABDM provides access to “discover, book and avail health services”, Sharma said. And for healthcare providers, ABDM provides “digital protocols for faster health claim processing”. 

ABDM provides access to a patient’s longitudinal health history, which ensures better diagnosis and more affordable treatment, Sharma mentioned in his speech. He also said that ABDM helps with “data-driven policy making”.

In the last four years, the entire procedure of claim processing – from filing a form to making payment, has become absolutely digital in terms of workflow, Sharma said. 

India has created unique digital goods such as Aadhar, UPI, e-KYC, authentication, digital signature on demand, digital locker etc, which “enable the creation of any domain-specific digital paradigm,” Sharma said. He added, “this is what we’re doing in the health space – how we can use these digital building blocks to create an architecture which enables interoperable, universal, scalable, open standard architecture”.

Stats about ABDM shared by R S Sharma:

  • The Prime Minister wants every citizen of the country to have a health account, and thats what Ayushman Bharat Health Account (ABHA) numbers are
  • Over 24 crore ABHA numbers created till-date
  • 1.5 lakh health facilities registered 
  • 80,000 health professionals enrolled
  • “Over 1 crore health records have been linked” Sharma said. He went on to add Indians produce 6 billion health records a year and their plan is to link 1 billion of them by the end of this year
  • Over 1000 partners and 64 integrations

Privacy concerns

The government plans to create various interoperable systems to solve health problems. However, it is important to understand that linking billions of data points does not come without risk. In the US alone, over 20 million health records were breached in the first half of 2022, Medianama reported. What’s interesting is that these breaches did not always happen at the site where the server is located or where the data is stored but occurred via emails, network servers, data stored on laptops/desktops etc and different levels like Healthcare providers (hospitals) and Business Associates (software provider). Even if the government is able to create a secure network to store this sensitive health data, it may be at risk when shared with third parties (which it plans to do). Speaking to HT, R S Sharma said “There will be no central vault to store health data of patients who use Ayushman Bharat Health Account (ABHA) numbers, with the onus being on affiliated hospitals to store and protect the data.”

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I cover privacy, surveillance and tech policy. In my reporting, I try my best to present the most relevant facts, and sometimes add in a pinch of my thoughts.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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