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How India can rise to the healthcare challenge

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Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have and India has all it takes to emerge as a major healthcare provider to the world, according to Farhan Pettiwala, executive director and head development– India & South Asia, Akhand Jyoti Eye Hospital. However, he advocates the need for the right policies and stronger execution of these policies on the ground. He suggests some key points for governments and leaders to focus on if they are to avoid a healthcare catastrophe. For instance, he feels that all retail medical stores across India should have 40 per cent stock of generic medicines so that cheap medicines can be made available. Schemes like Jan Aushadhi should penetrate to the masses, providing generic drugs at affordable prices

Countries are currently grappling with issues like rising health care costs, changing patient demographics, evolving consumer expectations and complex health and technology ecosystems. Health care stakeholders need to invest in innovative care delivery models, data inter-operability, advanced digital technologies, and alternative employment models to prepare for uncertainties like pandemics and build a smart health ecosystem

In my opinion, India has all it takes to emerge as a major healthcare provider to the world. India can reduce the cost of healthcare by increasing the number of healthcare professionals, such as doctors, nurses, technicians, and administrators. The prohibitive cost of healthcare services, lack of specialists, low penetration of medical insurance, and the high cost of medical education are issues that need to be transformed innovatively.

There are many positives in India’s favour. Indians are born healers. This is also visible in the COVID recovery cases in India. Our younger generation is very studious and hard working. We have 542 medical colleges in India. We produce the largest number of doctors, nurses, and medical technicians and have a very mature pharmaceutical industry. India will become the first country in the world to dissociate healthcare from affluence.

However, we need the right policies and stronger execution of these policies on the ground. India’s policymakers realise that it is not just about healthcare, but it is about creating equitable growth across the entire society under the “Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikas” scheme.

India’s total healthcare spending is at 3.6 per cent of GDP, as per OECD, way lower than the average of 8.8 per cent of GDP in 2018.

The passage of various healthcare bills in the Parliament in India, including the Mental Health Care Bill, certainly shows a significant and positive shift in India’s approach towards mental healthcare but it also makes us “question the debilitating condition of the healthcare sector in general.” There should be an increase in healthcare expenditure as India accounts for less than one per cent of world’s healthcare expenditure. All retail medical stores across India should have 40 per cent stock of generic medicines so that cheap medicines can be made available. Schemes like Jan Aushadhi should penetrate to the masses, providing generic drugs at affordable prices.

The main reason for China’s explosive growth can be attributed to its higher investment in health and education. India could follow successful models across the world, especially from countries like UK and Cuba, which focus more on sanitation, health and preventive rather than curative aspects.

Health care systems need to work toward a future in which the collective focus shifts away from treatment, to prevention and early intervention. With global health care spending expected to rise at a CAGR of five per cent between 2019 to 2023, it will likely present many opportunities for the sector.

 How to avoid a healthcare catastrophe

There are, however, some key points for governments and leaders to focus on if they are to avoid a healthcare catastrophe.

Investment – Although many governments have increased central investment in healthcare, this needs to be continued to ensure systems and medical staff are ready for further outbreaks of COVID-19, or other future problems that may arise even after the vaccine comes out in the market.

Wage policies – Our biggest concern is that not enough has been done yet to improve the wages and working conditions that these workers really deserve in countries like India. Despite investment, not enough is being done to remunerate doctors and medical staff for their work, especially with the increased workload during the pandemic

Working conditions – The analysis of the healthcare sector cannot simply focus on “salary paid”, we must look at the conditions of our healthcare workers, such as the hours people are asked to work, also need to be considered. This, in turn, will actually make the jobs more attractive.

We need to consider what type of education and training needs to go with these healthcare workers (or warriors as we call them), to ensure that they are getting into the best possible jobs that they can find.

Contractual issues – Another issue connected to pay is the type of contract on which many key staff are employed.  Many of the health workers are on short-term, precarious contracts. Hence, we need to really look at improving the coverage of regular contracts for these workers, who are then given the right types of benefits

As someone who has spent quite some time in healthcare sector now, I feel that it is about the ability to recruit and retain staff in various NHS [National Health Service] scheme and government hospitals that will ensure that we can do the job we are expected to do.

 The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is being felt across industries, causing irreversible changes to come. It has firmly established the need for active action and the establishment of a robust, collaborative, scalable, and agile digital healthcare infrastructure.

With healthcare spending projected to grow faster than the economy, increasing from 17.8 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017 to 21.4 per cent of GDP in 2027, there is still tremendous scope for India to rise to the healthcare challenge.

2 Comments
  1. Sayalee Gankar says

    Very well researched and gave insight. Ofcourse time has come to act.

  2. Rajesh Sabharwal says

    An insightful and enriching read. A well thought of and researched , indeed. Great job.
    After CoVid 19 the Govt. had taken the step and seen the strength and potential of capabilities of our talents, now they have to pace it as suggested by you.

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