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Budget 2022: Reimagining healthcare & wellbeing

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Akriti Bajaj- Assistant Vice President & Sector Lead-Healthcare & Medical Devices, Invest India & Rashika Vij- Associate, Invest India shares their views on Budget 2022

As the world’s largest democracy, healthcare & well-being have been one of the foundational pillars of development. From launching the world’s largest insurance scheme to being the unmatched vaccine manufacturing power during COVID-19, India has been hailed as the torchbearer of unparalleled determination & unmatched dedication towards health.

With an intention to achieve the overall goal of affordable healthcare for all irrespective of their social status, the Government of India has been making conscientious efforts and the Union Budget for FY 22-23 presented by the Hon’ble Finance Minister Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1, 2022, was no exception.

Some of the key announcements for the Healthcare & Wellness sector include the following:

Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM): Towards a robust public digital infrastructure

Launched on September 27, 2021, by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) strives to create a seamless online platform to enable interoperability within the digital health landscape to connect the digital health solutions of hospitals and healthcare facilities across the country.

The mission aims to develop the necessary backbone & federated architectural framework to build, support, and leverage the digital healthcare infrastructure of the country, bridging the existing lacuna amongst different stakeholders through ‘digital highways’ and ‘digital commons.’

The mission stand as a testimony to the Indian government’s focus on tackling some of the most fundamental and deeply rooted barriers to equitable healthcare specifically accessibility, affordability, and equity of health services.

Towards the same, the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a strategic roll out of an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem consisting of digital registries of healthcare providers and facilities, a unique health ID, consent framework, and universal access to health facilities.

The announcement of an open platform by the FM recognises the imminent shift towards a new model & paradigm of health care delivery in India leveraging technology infrastructure to provide healthcare with transparency, efficiency, and democratisation. The roll-out of the open platform will guide the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, reach out to those who are isolated & digitally illiterate, enable seamless portability across the length & breadth of the country, and design a technology architecture that can rapidly and agilely scale horizontally and vertically.

With the rolling out of an open platform, India is at an inflection point from where health access, delivery, and care can take a giant leap forward and move the nation towards improved health outcomes for all its citizens irrespective of their geographical & social locations.

National Tele Mental Health Programme: Building the foundation for empathy

Beginning her speech for the year 22-23, the Finance Minister expressed her most profound empathy for all those who had lost their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic and those who had to bear severe health & economic effects, negatively affecting countless people’s mental health, and created new barriers for people who were already suffering from mental illness.

The implications of living in quarantine because of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in India were a stress trigger and had adverse psychological effects on the population. Indians learnt to adapt to the “new normal” which affected every dimension of their lifestyle, i.e., levels of physical activity, sleep cycles, nutrition, and their social lives. To cope with this paradigm shift, long bouts of stress caused by enforced isolation, financial stress, job cuts, and unhealthy lifestyles were precursors to depression and anxiety. In addition, those already victims of these disorders, prior to the pandemic, found their conditions to be exacerbated because of social isolation.

Recognising the accelerated increase in the number of mental health problems due to the pandemic, Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, in her Union Budget speech for this year, announced the launch of a National Tele Mental Health Programme, inclusive of a network of 23 tele-mental health Centers of Excellence (CoE), with National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (NIMHANS) being the node & the International Institute for Information Technology- Bangalore (IIITB) providing technology support.

The announcement stands as a testament to the Indian Government’s commitment to a holistic healthcare approach that recognises the strong interlinkages of the body, mind, and soul. The establishment of the National Tele Mental Health Programme is an excellent step for the nation to systematically attack the problem and break the taboo around mental health by helping its citizens proactively.

However, it is also crucial to recognise the government’s importance on telemedicine, and e- Sanjeevani, the National Telemedicine Service of GoI, stands as an excellent example. A technological intervention conceptualised by MoHFW, eSanjeevani, has enabled remote doctor consultations and connected thousands living in remote parts of the country with doctors of metropolitan cities while sitting in the confines of their homes.

eSanjeevaniAB-HWC (Doctor-to-Doctor) system has accounted for over 1.60 crore consultations and currently, around 33,297 Health and Wellness Centres are acting as ‘Spokes’ to over 2991‘Hubs’ of District Hospitals and Medical Colleges. The eSanjeevaniOPD (Patient-to-Doctor) platform has served over 65 lakh patients in 35 States/UTs, trained & onboarded over 1,10,988 doctors and paramedics, set up 664 online OPDs, and delivered a total of 2.17 crore teleconsultation.

It is remarkable to note that over 1,10,000 patients are served through the eSanjeevani daily. The teleconsultation service has led to a massive improvement in access to specialized health services, particularly in rural areas**.

Sunrise opportunities: Beckoning a new era for Indian healthcare

The Budget for FY 22-23 has also pledged to develop ‘sunrise opportunities’ such as artificial intelligence, genomics, and pharmaceuticals to assist sustainable development and modernise the country. The FM in her Budget speech announced that supportive government policies, light-touch regulations, facilitation to build domestic capacities, promotion of R&D, and convergence of academia, industry, public institutions, and Government will guide & govern the country’s approach in these areas.

The development of these ‘sunrise’ opportunities will facilitate positive spill over effects along the entire healthcare spectrum & sub-segments. Continuing with the theme of the use of technology in health, focusing on artificial intelligence & genomics will make new therapies available to Indian patients at affordable costs, support India’s advancements towards next-generation personalised medicine & diagnostics, and construct comprehensive maps of genomes to understand different facets & dynamics of how exposure to different environments impacts human health. Towards pharmaceuticals, the Union Budget has also provided space to promote funds for blended finance with the government’s share being limited to 20 per cent and the funds being managed by private fund managers, which will further cement India’s positioning as the “Pharmacy of the World”.

In conclusion

From launching an open digital healthcare ecosystem under the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission to placing paramount importance on Mental Health and cutting-edge technological solutions such as artificial intelligence and genomics, the Union Budget for FY 22-23 recognises the multi-faceted nature of healthcare & well-being, moving India into the “Health Amrit Kaal”, the leadup to [email protected] towards affordable, accessible, and inclusive healthcare for all.

Note: **: Data as on January 14, 2022

 References:

  1. Budget 2022-2023: Speech of Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Finance
  2. https://abdm.gov.in/home/abdm
  3. https://pmjay.gov.in/node/3486
  4. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1789963

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