Back in 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK and US agreed to form a new partnership to fight future pandemics and tackle international health inequalities. Over the next nine years, the world's largest economies joined the initiative, working closely together either regionally or globally to prevent similar healthcare crises.
Today, significant measures are being taken to reduce global healthcare disparities amongst minorities and in rural and regional areas, with diagnoses of abnormal diseases and viruses now being reported regularly to a global governing body.
Along the way, countries have implemented their own guidelines and are now regulating their citizens to encourage them to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to prevent severe and debilitating diseases and illnesses that significantly strain health systems and budgets.
And therein lies the problem that some have long called the “Big Brother of patient monitoring.”
Have governments pushed the boundaries too far regarding preventative health initiatives? Where does one draw the line between tracking health and controlling an individual's lifestyle? And what role are pharmaceutical companies playing in enforcing such regulations to drive profits?
When the first wearable technology was released to the world, it was promoted as a life-enhancing product that would eventually monitor all aspects of your health. Smart bio-devices are now implanted into our skins and are continuously tracking us on an everyday basis. Now that people can track their health at the swipe of their skin, some are questioning how their health is being monitored and whether it is restricting their freedom of choice when it comes to their health.
Even though there are concerns about data, privacy and individual health freedoms, wearable healthcare technology is continually offering possibilities in treating medical conditions, with digital developments helping to improve people's well-being and quality of life. Still, privacy watchdogs say the emergency powers and extreme measures implemented shortly after the pandemic must be carefully watched lest they bring about the most significant loss of liberty the world has ever seen.
Why did this happen?
It became vital during the pandemic to track and trace people to prevent the spread of the virus. It wasn't immediate, but governments eventually came together to standardize testing, impose travel restrictions, and develop and distribute vaccines.
It seemed reasonable to assume an overhaul of the medical health infrastructures, including pandemic-ready medical halls and portable field hospitals for isolation and treatment, would make populations resilient to future pandemics. Stricter livestock guidelines are frequently being introduced, and proactive monitoring of the health status of animals and birds in poultry and livestock farms and markets are helping to identify new viruses. And building codes and construction regulations have been introduced to handle pandemic threats.
AI and wearable devices have long been a staple in advanced countries. They are also now easier to access in developing ones, a critical development in alerting authorities to potential health issues before they spread and generate broad --and costly --damage. We also see an increase in cross-border data and records-sharing regarding people's health to help researchers analyze trends and develop solutions before people suffer from medical crises like pandemics.
Medical and well-being initiatives have seen tremendous advancements in the wake of modern technologies, efficient care delivery, and significant biomedical research breakthroughs. There's also an increase in joint projects between governments and other sectors to reduce the price of bio-devices and provide support to older citizens. Yet access to healthcare is still impacted by racial, ethnic, and cultural differences that are often overlooked concerning their role in medical care.
Cultural impediments like language barriers most prominently affect access to health care, but family roles, belief differences, and diverse political mindsets remain obstacles to implementing a global approach to healthcare business and research.
Further barriers include a distrustful society fighting back against governmental regulations and monitoring, with great debate over what is deemed ethical and unethical. As these struggles continue, it's interesting to note that the population at large is slowly becoming healthier and placing less strain on health systems and tax dollars.
Supporters of existing, apparently successful preventative healthcare measures insist regulation of international data privacy and usage has been safely implemented. Whether they can bring the general public on board with that assessment remains to be seen.
In 2040, fossil fuels are diminishing in use, with advanced material technologies moving on to natural sources like the Russian dandelion.
In 2040, fossil fuels are diminishing in use moving on to natural sources.
KPMG Saudi Arabia
University of Leeds
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