As the pharmacy of the world, India celebrates its 75th independence day this month, challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic unveiled the paradoxical state of the Indian healthcare system. While the country celebrates ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ it must reckon the hits, misses and opportunities in the sector.
On one side, India's healthcare sector has evolved faster than ever as the pandemic brought pace and urgency to healthcare delivery models led by innovation. As many as 400 million Indians are said to have used digital health services, mostly on their smartphones. And, this number could grow to one billion by 2030.
But on the other hand, India spends just around 2 percent of its GDP on healthcare. That's significantly lower than the global average of 10 percent. Every year, over 100 million Indian’s slip into poverty due to out-of-pocket health expenditure. In fact, India is ranked 131 out of 189 countries on the UN's Human Development Index.
Axilor Ventures’ Chairman Kris Gopalakrishnan emphasises on the triple ‘A’ mantra that consists of awareness, accountability and accessibility to improve India’s healthcare system. He believes that the country should come up with a new healthcare model built on digital advancements. “We should think about centralised health records,” he said, adding that these records should be secure and must respect privacy.
While applauding India’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he also addressed the need to streamline the insurance model. Greater flexibility in the healthcare insurance system is required to create ease in terms of claiming insurance, Gopalkrishnan said.
K Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), believes that transformation of urban as well as rural primary healthcare centres is important for the the transformation of the country's healthcare sector as a whole. Strengthening of these centres could help in early detection, disease prevention, etc. He also suggested the use of digital technology to provide comprehensive measures and connected care for acute as well as chronic diseases.
To address the crucial challenges such as crumbled infrastructure and inadequate manpower that are plaguing the sector, he believes, more investment is required.
Without focusing on capital expenditure, delivery of the services should be adequate with adequate stocks of medicines.
Extension of the financial security umbrella, perhaps in stages, could also be an important move. Reddy also spoke about the need of making the private sector a reliable partner. He added that the private sector must become more responsible and the voluntary sector must become more resourceful.
While India enters into the 'amrit kaal' (era of elixir), it still has a long way to go in terms of transforming its healthcare in the digital world.