mHealth Alliance report addresses global mobile health privacy laws

A new report from the mHealth Alliance, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Merck, and Baker & McKenzie identifies the policy gaps and legal and technological changes that need to be addressed in order to strengthen privacy laws that relate to mobile healthcare.

With an overview of the current state of mHealth privacy and security laws, the report provides a "functional framework" for addressing worldwide mHealth privacy law issues, which the authors say can be applied to analyze existing privacy law systems and proposals for new privacy laws and regulation.

"Law is often seen as a method of effecting behavioral change, creating minimum standards of quality and care, and encouraging broad adoption of recognized best practices," states the report. "For this reason, the law and regulation of mHealth privacy and security is of special interest to the mHealth community."

Efforts at legislative reform to address mHealth privacy and security concerns on the national level must first take stock of the cultural, technological, and legal context, conclude the authors. Their report examines seven geographically diverse countries, including Bangladesh, Chile, India, Nigeria, Peru, Tanzania, and Uganda, where mHealth projects are already underway in order to research and analyze the current status of laws and regulations that address health data security.

Based on that research and analysis, the report establishes a framework for addressing privacy law issues around the globe, which identifies guidelines for future regulation in areas such as: scope of coverage, notice and consent requirements, data minimization, data security, integrity and accessibility, data transfers, and enforcement and sanctions. However, the report does not recommend one universal model law for all countries. 

"It is worth noting that this paper does not set out to prescribe legal solutions to specific data privacy problems or advocate for one universal model law for the entire world," states the report. "The authors believe that a one-size-fits-all approach is simply not appropriate in the privacy context and much less in an environment, such as mHealth, where the technology and the issues are still evolving every day."

In related news, the mHealth Alliance in May released a Gender Analytical Framework to help mobile healthcare implementers better understand the implications of gender issues for their mHealth projects and to empower women and improve reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health in low-income countries. The mHealth Alliance framework provides "an outline through which to understand the nuances of gender issues, as well as gaps related to gender."

The framework is based on insights from VillageReach, an mHealth Alliance grant recipient, which works to improve access to quality healthcare for underserved communities around the world through the organization's mHealth projects.

To learn more:
- read the report

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