n April 2022, the Indian government launched the Digital Health Mission under its Digital India programme. The Digital Health Mission, also known as Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, aims to digitise the healthcare system of the country. It intends to give every citizen an Ayushman Bharat Health Account (ABHA) number. Medical records of every individual will be stored digitally in a central database, including sensitive information like termination of pregnancy, seeking care for sexually transmitted diseases, etc. The ABHA number will also be connected to each person’s respective Aadhaar number. Aadhaar is the world’s largest biometric ID system, and the Aadhaar number is linked to the individual’s demographic and biometric information such as address, phone number, fingerprints and iris scans, and this data is stored in a centralised database. When it is not technically mandatory to produce one’s Aadhaar or link it to welfare services, in practice it is for all intents and purposes. In the past, persons living with HIV were forced to discontinue treatment as care was contingent on them providing Aadhaar details, which caused fear of their identities being revealed. A report published by Behan Box(link is external) explored instances when women had to seek unsafe abortion as they were denied safe abortion by healthcare providers for not furnishing their Aadhaar.
On 3 June, the government of Poland introduced a plan to create a national pregnancy registry; all hospitals and health centres in the country will be mandated to maintain digital records of pregnant persons. In Poland, abortion is legal only when it is a risk to the health or life of a woman or when pregnancy results from a rape. In my conversation with Ivette Mrova, a European abortion rights activist working with Women Help Women, a non-profit working to make abortion accessible, she said, “The pregnancy registry is essentially digitising the paper patient card to make it e-patient card as there is insistence from the European Union to digitise health data.” She says that the problem in digitising this data is the distrust between the people and the authorities. “Due to a restrictive law on medical termination of pregnancy, people do not trust neither the government authorities who will maintain the pregnancy registry data nor the doctors or service providers."
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Image: Illustration by Paru Ramesh