Professor joins global investigation of digitalisation and health

Professor Deborah Lupton will ask how digital development can help millions of people live healthier, longer lives. 
Diane Nazaroff | UNSW Newsroom

UNSW SHARP Professor Deborah Lupton has been appointed to an international Commission which will consider the implications of digitalisation on health and wellbeing. The Governing Health Futures 2030: Growing Up in the Digital World Commission will particularly look at the impact of digitalisation on countries with high youth populations.

“I am very much looking forward to being involved in the Commission, as I have a long-standing interest in the social dimensions of health as well as in how people use digital technologies,” Professor Lupton from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences said. “These interests come together in my current work on digital health and self-tracking cultures, in which I take a sociological approach that addresses how digital devices and media contribute to health-related understandings, practices, concepts of selfhood and embodiment, and social relations.”

The SHARP (Strategic Hires and Retention Pathways) Professor is based at UNSW’s Centre for Social Research in Health and the Social Policy Research Centre and leads the Vitalities Lab. She is one of 17 Commissioners who have been appointed to the Lancet & Financial Times-sponsored Commission, which will run from October 2019 to December 2021.

The independent Commissioners are from a range of sectors, disciplines and countries. They will work with the World Health Organisation, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The Commission will build on the work of a 2016 Lancet Commission, which found that decades of neglect and underinvestment have had serious effects on the health and wellbeing of young people and adolescents aged 10 – 24 years throughout the world.

Africa has the youngest population in the world, with over 200 million people aged between 15 and 24. The Commission said that most young people are growing up in countries where preventable and treatable health problems remain a daily threat to their health, wellbeing, and life chances. The way digitalisation is governed and made accessible will either exacerbate these challenges or help resolve them, the Commission said.

The Governing Health Futures Commission will identify which international policies for digital health, artificial intelligence (AI) and universal health coverage (UHC) have the greatest potential to improve health and wellbeing. It will also identify which policies can maximise health equity in resource-poor settings while ensuring human rights. It will also deliver a set of recommendations on the governance of digital health, AI and UHC, taking account of geopolitical, economic and social factors.

“The expansion of digital technologies for disseminating health and medical information, promoting health and supporting self-care has contributed to people’s knowledge about health and allowed them to share their experiences and knowledge with peers,” Professor Lupton said. She said she hoped the Commission would shine a light on both the benefits and possibilities and the potential risks or unintended consequences, of digital health technologies.  “This should include a strong focus on personal data privacy and security issues, and the ethics of collecting and using health data,” Professor Lupton said.

“These data can provide citizens with valuable insights into their bodies and health states, but they are also potentially open to use and misuse by third parties. An ethics of care needs to be adopted by those actors and agencies who seek to encourage young people to actively engage with digital health technologies.”