The Policy Pivot for India’s Healthcare System: Access & Quality

As the most populous country in the world, India’s economy is poised to become the third largest by FY29 with a GDP of $5 trillion. This economic expansion is lending a fillip to the growth of healthcare industry across diagnostic, curative, health insurance and medical device (MediTech) sectors. Particularly, India has emerged as the world’s fastest growing MediTech market resulting in the Government defining it as a sunrise sector.

With interim budget 2023-24 allocating Rs 89,155 crore to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, policy level initiatives to increase focus on R&D and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ have picked up pace and such policies will define the future of Indian healthcare industry. With expanding budgetary allocation, policy reforms, and impetus to boost local manufacturing— we are at the cusp of a major change.

Chaitanya Sarwate, Managing Director Wipro GE Healthcare

Bridging Infrastructural Gaps

While government’s focus on self-sufficiency stands strong, historically, infrastructure and human resource gaps, have impacted access to care in India. The country currently has 1.3 hospital beds per 1,000 population which is a substantial improvement since 2014. However, reports indicate, “an additional 3M beds will be needed for India to achieve the target of 3 beds per 1,000 people.” Today, the doctor-population ratio in the country is 1:834; better than WHO standard of 1:1000 and substantial progress from 2014. Simultaneously, there are 3.4M registered nurses and 1.3M Allied Healthcare Professionals in the country. This has significantly bridged the gap between need and availability of healthcare personnel.

Over the years, government has made consistent efforts to bridge infrastructural roadblocks. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has been allocated Rs 89,155 crore, in the interim 2023-24 budget, a +13% increase over 2022-23 RE. More than 1,64,000 Ayushman Arogya Mandirs are providing primary health care to communities closer to their homes. Moreover, more than 31 crore beneficiaries are enrolled under Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri – Jan Arogya Yojana (AB PM-JAY). Government’s focus on gaps is also reflected in its Make in India 2.0 concrete action plans that have created a conducive environment for investment in health infrastructure.

While infrastructural and human resource gaps ameliorate, India’s dependence on imported MediTech stands at a staggering 75%. Government is taking strategic steps to address overdependence on imports, especially from China, to ensure equitable access to care without compromising nation data and economic security. The recently launched National Medical Policy 2023 provides impetus to the vision of not just making India Atmanirbhar but also a global leader in innovation & manufacturing of medical devices achieving 10-12% global share over next 25 years. Structural policies like Production Linked Incentives (PLI) coupled with large corpus (1 Lakh Crore) to support R&D will enable this vision. While implementation of Medical Device Rules 2017/2020 under aegis of (Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, CDSCO) is a positive move towards ensuring the safety and efficacy of MediTech was made as per WHO norms.

Digital Future with Innovations Leading the Way

India is the most populous country with growing ageing population and a threatening burden of non-communicable diseases. Even as we strengthen healthcare infrastructure and human resource capacity, and reduce dependence on imports, the urban-rural divide will continue to persist. A major share of the healthcare infrastructure continues to be concentrated in metro cities. The geographical expanse and population distribution calls for more innovative approach to healthcare delivery that can leverage local strengths such as mobile penetration and affordable data.Digital healthcare is the most promising enabler to ensure healthcare reaches the last mile using the mobile penetration, low-cost data, and India stack. Launch of National Digital Health Mission offers accessibility and equity in health services as demonstrated during Covid vaccination roll out. The state-of-the-art digital health systems can capitalize on core digital health stack with power of Artificial Intelligence and more. As the government moots ₹1 lakh-crore corpus for research and development in its interim budget, it is set to open new opportunities to bridge the innovation gap in the country. It is hoped that a substantial portion of the spend is allocated towards innovation that can enhance access to quality care via digital health.

At the same time, it is encouraging to see the government is taking steps like ‘Promotion of Research and Innovation in Pharma MedTech’ (PRIP) to push local manufacturing from cost-based to innovation-based manufacturing. The coming decade will need more innovation hubs, and collaboration across the healthcare sector to invest significantly in R&D. These local innovations will reduce our dependence on imported MediTech while making India a powerhouse in the global MediTech markets.

Finally, it is encouraging to see an increased allocation to healthcare coupled with a stable policy regime that will speedily close the gaps in healthcare infrastructure and human resource capacity. Additional impetus on innovation, reducing import dependence in MediTech and creation of a digital health ecosystem will allow India to leapfrog in delivering equitable access to quality care. Indian healthcare landscape is poised for a promising future in the Amrit Kal.

The article is authored by Chaitanya Sarawate, Managing Director, Wipro GE Healthcare and President & CEO, GE HealthCare South Asia.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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