Speech from UNRC Renata Dessallien on National Statistics Day 2020
Challenges in Meeting the SDGs in context of COVID -19
Good morning. I hope you and your loved ones are well during these difficult times.
Let me start by congratulating you all on National Statistics Day 2020. Last year on this day, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation and the UN in India launched the SDG Dashboard to bring data into a single location to promote data-driven decision making. This was a timely accomplishment under any circumstances, but 12 months later, the importance of data-driven decision making is even more pronounced – and the SDG Dashboard even more relevant.
As you well know, the global community has entered unknown and uncertain territory. Economies, communities and the natural environment are under extreme duress due to the pandemic. Policymakers need facts and data to navigate these uncharted times and make informed decisions. Sound evidence has become even more important to protect lives and safeguard our future.
The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetime, both in scale and complexity. National Statistics Offices (NSOs) are more important than ever before. They will, of course, need to continue producing routine data on which we all depend — GDP, employment, prices, inflation, births and deaths, etc. But the pressure is on to also provide new information rapidly, almost real-time – for policymakers to address the pandemic.
What began as a health crisis has rapidly become the biggest human and economic crisis of our generation. The pandemic has not only overwhelmed health systems
globally but also ground economies to a near halt and severely impacted livelihoods. Students are out of schools, value chains are disrupted, millions of people are at risk of hunger and poverty. And amidst all this, the poorest and the most vulnerable, including women, children, elderly, persons with disabilities, migrants and informal sector workers, are, as usual, at greatest risk.
COVID-19 has revealed the fault lines of poverty, inequality and climate change in country after country. It was precisely due to inadequate progress in these areas that the Sustainable Development Goals were created in the first place. Now the pandemic is revealing these fragilities openly and the SDGs have become more relevant than ever.
The Government of India, including NITI Aayog, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation and the State governments had taken many early measures to prioritize the SDGs and to localise them. Next month, the GoI will present its second Voluntary National Report to the UN, highlighting progress made, and its very impressive. We see how schemes such as the Ayushman Bharat for healthcare, Jan Dhan Yojana for financial inclusion, PM Kisan for farmers and MGNREGA for rural employment have provided valuable relief for vulnerable populations, underscoring once again the importance of social protection for vulnerable population groups and those in the informal sector. Because of these pre-existing programmes, the government is better equipped to respond to the COVID crisis.
Importantly, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of the public sector in health. The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique opportunity to fully realize the commitment made in India’s National Health Policy (NHP) 2017 to progressively achieve Universal Health Coverage. Strengthening the public health system, including primary health care, also has positive ripple effects in the areas of nutrition, water and sanitation, not to mention educational outcomes. So,
based on the data and the evidence, and as India navigates through the pandemic, I sincerely hope the government will be able to increase its budgetary allocation for public health and invest more in the public health care system, not only now but also for the future.
The pandemic has shown us the role that technology and data science is playing in addressing data needs. New technologies are being deployed to collect, disseminate and use data to support the fight against COVID-19. And, at the same time that the government innovates with technology in response to the pandemic, as well as in many other spheres of work, data privacy regulations concerns will need to be addressed through robust debates and safeguards.
I’m happy to share with you an example of an excellent collaboration between WHO and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare involving technology. WHO supported the Ministry in rolling out the Integrated Health Information Platform (IHIP), a web-enabled, near real-time information platform to monitor public health in India. The IHIP is an important part of India’s National Digital Health Plan and provides policy-makers in the government with a single operating picture of the public health situation in India, integrating health and health-relevant data from various national programmes and entities. The importance of intelligent data gathering and analysis cannot be overstated. Since its launch in 2018, IHIP has gathered over 6 million case-based data of persons and it is expected that the total number of records will exceed 1 billion within 2 years. This platform is currently providing the government with an important tool to addresses the challenges of COVID-19.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis has brought extraordinary, previously unimaginable challenges to the achievement of the SDGs. But, history has taught us that every crisis also presents exceptional opportunities. We should use the opportunity for bold, innovative, urgent, scalable action to
prevent the worst impacts of the pandemic, starting with the most vulnerable and the poorest, and we should pull out all the stops for SDG acceleration overall. This is our best protection against all sorts of crises, including pandemics. This is our safe guarding of the future. And this would be a fitting response as we enter the SDG Decade of Action.
I wish everyone the very, very best during these most challenging times.
I reiterate the full commitment of the UN in India to your efforts to ensure the well-being of all, so no one is left behind.
Thank you for inviting me to this important occasion.