The two most prominent challenges in the availability of equitable healthcare in India are affordability and accessibility. Managing the health of such a large population is difficult, but there is much we can do to address India’s lack of healthcare equity.
Primary healthcare in India has grown rapidly. The Government is focused on building a robust and inclusive digital health ecosystem for enhancing healthcare in India. The National Health Authority (NHA) recently informed that over 4 crore digital health records of citizens have been linked to Ayushman Bharat Health Accounts (ABHA). The scheme has made a significant progress in building a comprehensive digital framework. Furthermore, the Government’s plan to set up the National Digital Health Mission towards building a robust data infrastructure is a great move in working towards India’s public health system.
The past year has been about dealing with the aftermath of COVID and establishing socioeconomic stability. In the New Year, we need to acknowledge the missed opportunities and work towards building India as a developed nation by 2047.
Highlights of the past year
India has achieved a momentous milestone by administering over 200 crore vaccine doses through the largest COVID vaccination campaign, setting a standard for the rest of the world. The campaign’s success demonstrated that we are the top vaccine developers in addition to being the greatest contract manufacturer in the world. We have demonstrated India’s tenacity on public-private collaboration.
The urgency and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic demanded R&D innovations, smart technology implementation, speedy clinical trials, cross-border partnerships, rapid ramp-up of manufacturing capabilities and supply-chain and distribution efficiencies. Now is a critical time for Indian pharmaceuticals to re-calibrate growth chances and discover innovative strategies to leverage on growing opportunities for global value generation.
During the worst phase of the pandemic, India’s healthcare personnel were exposed to the virus on a daily basis, putting not only their own lives in jeopardy, but also the lives of their families. However, India’s frontline workers, and primary care providers, did not allow the difficult times to weaken their determination and continued to treat patients rapidly and effectively.
Collaboration is the key
Partnerships and collaborations play critical roles in strengthening public health and the economy under today’s socioeconomic conditions. This is the best time for all of us to work together and assist the Government in its efforts to establish an ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat’.
Initially, vaccine hesitancy was a significant barrier to vaccine delivery in a nation with 1.4 billion people, in addition to logistical difficulties. Health professionals encountered resistance from people who feared the vaccine’s harmful side effects. To counter all these restraints, the private healthcare industry joined the efforts with the Government.
Piramal Foundation reached out to 10 lakh people in 49 tribal districts across seven states as part of its campaign ‘Aashwasan’ — being implemented along with Union Health and Tribal Affairs Ministries as well as USAID to dispel vaccine hesitancy.
The two most prominent challenges in the availability of equitable healthcare in India are affordability and accessibility. Managing the health of such a large population is difficult, but there is much we can do to address India’s lack of healthcare equity. This includes strengthening hospital and clinic facilities as well as considering non-infrastructure treatments such as telehealth, channelling non-governmental resources to the most disadvantaged communities, and interacting with people to persuade them to prioritise their health.
Increasing affordability and accessibility to the masses
Primary Health Centres, which are currently present in many rural areas, can be improved by increasing the quality and services provided. These centres can be outreach points as well for education and awareness activities on diseases that are prevalent in the population. The private sector also plays an important role here, especially when combined with another of India’s strengths, the IT sector.
The nationwide teleconsultation service eSanjeevani is one example of how technology can be used to provide urban expertise to rural areas. The PPP model can ensure that current medical infrastructure and resources are optimally utilised while remaining inexpensive to the end user.
The adoption of digital technologies such as telemedicine has helped patients across the country achieve increased accessibility to healthcare. Patients can have accessibility to the most relevant doctors. Telemedicine technology can help bridge the existing gaps in public health. The time has come to shift away from need-based collaboration and toward a long-term mutually beneficial relationship approach. This will allow for long-term partnerships that can lead to long-term changes in healthcare systems.
Addressing the gaps in 2023
The industry’s dedication to innovation and technological improvements guided by patient centricity served as a catalyst for the healthcare sector’s recovery in 2022. Today, the industry has the much-needed push across the value chain as India moves closer to being the world’s leading manufacturing hub and major supplier of medical devices.
Given India’s G20 presidency, digital health innovation, attaining universal health coverage, and enhancing healthcare infrastructure will remain significant driving forces in 2023. Increasing fiscal deficit and a higher debt burden may limit public finances in the coming years. Therefore, focus on public-private partnerships (PPPs) would become essential to bridge this gap and catalyse growth.
Following the accelerated digital transformation, the healthcare industry will see further use of newer technologies providing consistent level treatment on a bigger scale. We can look forward to a healthier, more equitable 2023 thanks to technological advances.
-The author, Padma Shri Dr Swati Piramal, is Vice Chairperson, Piramal Group. The views expressed are personal.
(Edited by : CH Unnikrishnan)