‘India needs to spend more on public health’

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on September 05, 2020 Published on September 04, 2020

(Clockwise from right): Gautham Khanna, CEO, PD Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai; Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India; Swati Piramal, Vice-chairperson, Piramal Group, with Jyothi Datta PT, Deputy Editor, BusinessLine, at the Knowledge Series webinar on Friday

The 15th Finance Commission is revising its recommendations, asking for greater allocation for health both at the Central and State levels. If that report delivers what it promises, there would be a shift in the direction of healthcare financing towards universal health coverage, said Srinath Reddy, President of the New Delhi-based Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) on Friday.

“Even before the Covid-19 pandemic came in, the Finance Commission constituted a high-level expert group which recommended greater allocation to the healthcare system, particularly strengthening of primate healthcare and district hospitals, greater investment in health workforce and, post-Covid, they are revising their recommendations,” Reddy said, while participating in a BusinessLine Knowledge Series webinar on “Does India’s Healthcare Model Need A Tweak Post-Covid?’’

Other panelists who participated in the webinar were Swati Piramal, Vice-Chairperson, Piramal Group, and Gautam Khanna, CEO of the PD Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai. The discussion, powered by Tata Mutual Fund, was moderated by PT Jyothi Datta, Deputy Editor, BusinessLine.


Pointing out that Covid-19 was an unprecedented global crisis which precipitated not just health crisis, but economic crisis, leadership crisis and moral crisis, Piramal said technology and innovation are the only answers. The pandemic is forcing the world to think quickly. She said India’s two major strengths are its pharmaceutical industry and large private healthcare system. “If we play to that strength, we would be able to navigate the crisis,” said Dr Piramal.

Revamp regulatory system

Citing how the British government has gone back to animal trials of almost 5,000 drug candidates to find potential drugs that would be useful for Covid-19 treatment, Piramal said India too should go back to animal trials carried out 30 or 40 years ago to look for potential therapies.

The problem, she said, is that India has a very old regulatory system that was written at the time of Independence, and this hasn’t been really refreshed. There is a need for revamping this regulatory system to get vaccines and drugs faster.

Challenges to hospitals

Khanna said Covid-19 posed multiple challenges to hospitals, particularly those in private sector. They were mainly at four levels — physical infrastructure, human resource, clinical as well as financial.

Right from making space available for segregated treatment of covid and non-covid patients to changing air-conditioning system from positive pressure to negative pressure, to avoid the infection going out, all had to be done in no time.

Besides, hospitals had to keep their overworked medical staff motivated. All this when they were making losses because patients suffering other diseases and requiring elective surgeries were shunning these hospitals for the fear of contracting the infection. He warned that many private hospitals will find it difficult to survive post-covid and many may have to re-invest themselves.

All panelists agreed that India needs to spend more on public health not just at the Central, but at the State levels and its primary and secondary healthcare systems need to be beefed up at the earliest.

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Published on September 04, 2020
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