By Gautam Khanna
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown the importance of having a rigid healthcare infrastructure, especially in a highly populated country like India. Is India working towards that goal taking a lesson from the crisis? What should be the way forward?
India has battled the coronavirus with grit and determination compared to the western world and the results are there for us to see. However, there is no room for complacency and all preventive measures must be followed as evident from the recent rise in the number of cases, after being in control for several weeks. The economy too is showing signs of revival with the way Sensex has breached the 50k mark, we may soon see the double-digit growth predicted for the country.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a centrally funded PM Swasthya Yojana with an outlay of Rs 64,180 crore over six years.
We should also be proud of the fact that the country is not only looking within to vaccinate its own but is also reaching out and helping other countries that are seeking help to vaccinate its people by donating India-made vaccines under the Vaccine Maitri initiative. It is a matter of pride that the Indian government has helped countries as small as the Commonwealth of Dominica and as large as Canada. This vaccine diplomacy has earned India considerable goodwill when the world is still battling the deadly virus.
The allocation of Rs 35,000 crore for vaccines, the rollout of pneumococcal vaccine across India is a move to push for a healthier India.
This crisis has given us time to introspect and reevaluate the health infrastructure- both primary and secondary care. In a much-needed fillip, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a centrally funded PM Swasthya Yojana with an outlay of Rs 64,180 crore over six years that will strengthen and develop primary, secondary, and tertiary healthcare facilities even in the last miles of our nation. The allocation of Rs 35,000 crore for vaccines, the rollout of pneumococcal vaccine across India is a move to push for a healthier India.
The decision to up the FDI limit in insurance from 49% to 74% will help increase the country’s insurance penetration.
Looking at the intent of the Government, India finally seems to be on the right track with the focus on healthcare. The decision to up the FDI limit in insurance from 49% to 74% will help increase the country’s insurance penetration, which has been very abysmal until now, and with Covid-19 many have realized the importance of being adequately covered under the insurance scheme.
The pandemic was a reality check on all aspects of healthcare. The unprecedented crisis also gave us hindsight on the importance of developing the skills and expertise of healthcare workers and encouraging healthcare providers to do so. The new bill tabled on allied healthcare would regulate the shortfall of allied healthcare professionals currently faced by the sector. It is an opportunity for the government and the private sector to impart skills to the country’s population and make them employable.
The Indian healthcare sector has opportunities in every segment, which includes care providers, payers, and medical technology.
It is thus imperative that we scale the health infrastructural growth if we are to increase the market size by three-fold, i.e., to Rs 8.6 trillion by 2022. The Indian healthcare sector has opportunities in every segment, which includes care providers, payers, and medical technology. With a renewed interest and increase in public spending on healthcare, India is poised to conquer the healthcare space in the world market.
The pandemic has also bought out the importance of digital healthcare, which will assume even more significance in times to come. Using telemedicine for access and convenience, online services for patient convenience, using AI to help doctors for accurate and faster diagnosis and treatments, and using digital tools to increase the efficiency of hospital operations are just some of the uses of digital healthcare.
In the last one year, the private sector has been facing a financial crisis because of the lockdown imposed and the subsequent limitation of OPD and IPD services. While some had to shut down their services, many had to bring in major infrastructural changes at their own cost to accommodate and treat the coronavirus patients. In addition, the capping of prices on in-patient services also led to major cash burn for the hospitals. Though the sector is coming back to normalcy in terms of patient inflows, the recovery is slower than expected.
Although there has been a push to encourage public-private partnerships, much more clarity is needed on the synergy required and help India scale newer heights in healthcare. India responded to the crisis well and going forward the Aatmanirbhar Bharat mission should extend to science and technology as well so that it need not meet with a rude shock as ventilators in short supply et al in the future. In the same breath, start-ups, which sprung up to action and filled the supply gaps in medical equipment and instruments need to be further encouraged.
This dreadful aspect of such a virus is that this may not be the last virus and that such outbreaks could happen in the future too. Until 2020, we have not seen a pandemic as ferocious as this one but that is no guarantee that there won’t be one in the future. The strengthening of healthcare infrastructure, creating a team of workers who can through research and analysis manage such outbreaks and greater empowerment of healthcare staff will be the way forward for a better and safer India.
Also Read: Of virus, vaccine, and vehemence
(Gautam Khanna is Co-Chair, FICCI Health Services Committee and CEO, PD Hinduja Hospital & MRC.)
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