How to build a future-ready, resilient healthcare system in India

Sharad Tyagi | Updated on June 18, 2020 Published on June 18, 2020

The Covid crisis has higlighted the importance of using technology and innovation to ramp up the healthcare system

The Covid experience so far has thrown up a significant understanding of the opportunities that can help India progress as a nation, for the health and well-being of its citizens. The focus areas that emerge include: expanding healthcare infrastructure and capability, improving access and healthcare financing, and fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration.

According to the Economic Survey 2020, India’s public financing for health is at 1.6 per cent of the GDP. While the Centre is committed to raising this figure to 2.5 per cent by 2025, as envisaged in the National Health Policy 2017, it is estimated that the States, too, need to ramp up healthcare spending to at least 8 per cent of their budgets. Ayushman Bharat has been a breakthrough innovation in universal healthcare in India, but more needs to be done.

We need Ayushman Bharat 2.0 and 3.0, which will expand the depth and width of healthcare financing and insurance and bring outcome- linked payments for payers with the creation of innovative solutions — like community risk pooling, EMI mechanisms etc. Not only will this bring quality healthcare, it will also allow for innovative healthcare solutions and products to be brought to the homes of all Indians on a sustainable basis for IPD and OPD patients as well.

On May 12, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a special economic stimulus package worth ₹20 lakh crore to help revive the economy and make India self-reliant in the wake of the economic carnage caused by Covid-19. This was followed by a number of announcements made by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Healthcare featured as part of the announcements, and it was declared that health expenditure will be increased and investments at the grassroots level will be ramped up for health and wellness centres.

Focus on innovation

The much-needed emphasis on increased investments and ramp-up of health and wellness centres will play a crucial role in disease management and preventive care while ensuring improved healthcare access to all. Likewise, investments in data and technology and in research and innovation will serve as catalysts towards creating a resilient healthcare system.

Technology constitutes an important part of the reform agenda. The Health Technology Assessment (HTA) is a multidisciplinary process that summarises information about the medical, social, economic and ethical issues related to the use of a health technology in a systematic, transparent, unbiased, robust manner. Technologies such as telemedicine should get a boost in the current and post-Covid environment.

The power of innovation cannot be undermined. Today, more than ever, the entire world is looking at the science-based pharmaceutical industry for a solution. According to the Global Innovation Index 2019, India is the 52nd most innovative country in the world. India has the capability, capacity, and talent pool required to become a powerhouse of innovation.

The key areas that we need to focus are: building an enabling infrastructure; supporting, recognising and rewarding high-risk innovation, strengthening government, industry and academia partnership and making available opportunities for investors to fund such innovations. All this can flourish only in an enabling and favourable policy environment.

Covid learnings

Covid-19 has become our biggest teacher. And collaboration has emerged as our biggest lesson. It has worked globally: scientists, physicians, funders and manufacturers have come together as part of an international collaboration, coordinated by the WHO, to help speed the availability of a vaccine against Covid-19.

Several biopharmaceutical companies are researching vaccine candidates for the prevention of Covid-19 and collaborating in the sharing of existing technologies that can be leveraged to allow a rapid upscale of production once a vaccine candidate is identified. Globally, at least 20 bio-pharmaceutical companies are involved in Covid-19 focussed R&D efforts in partnership with: 11 global academic institutions; nine biotech companies and three other biopharmaceutical companies.

Our second-biggest learning from the Covid-19 has also been the need to be geared to face future health emergencies. It begins with augmenting the current healthcare system in the country. To quote Mahatma Gandhi: “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” A strong foundation for a self-reliant and healthy India lies on Make in India, Innovate in India and Collaborate in India.

The writer is President, Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India. Views are personal

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Published on June 18, 2020
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