Soon, India will be the most populous nation in the world and a healthy population can single-handedly make this statistic a clear strength. Conversely, the burden of ill-health and a rise of disease could impact our potential demographic advantage. In 2015, we lost more than one million children under the age of five and the reality is that most in India are blissfully unaware of such untimely deaths.
Put simply, the question that we as nation need to ask ourselves is how we can achieve the greatest level of health for the greatest number of people and ensure a basic safety net of healthcare for all despite the dichotomies of the health sector in India. The acute lack of quality health infrastructure, the nature of financing mechanisms, the stellar capability of Indian doctors and hospitals alongside an acute shortage of skilled talent — have all been spoken about extensively, but have remained largely unaddressed.
Our recent social empowerment model of JAM (Jandhan Aadhaar and Mobile) is an unprecedented disruptive innovation. India now needs to replicate this success in healthcare and I am confident that we can do it with a two pronged strategy – one in the preventative healthcare domain and another that tackles disease and emerging health issues proactively. A national framework for collaborative care can create this health success story.
The first step in the journey ahead is to accord National Priority Sector status to healthcare. Secondly, to pilot and scale up effective universal-coverage models to guarantee essential treatment and create a safety net of care sustained using a model of increasing participation. Third, to drive policy consensus to bring Healthcare on to the concurrent list, for uniformity in health design, systems and regulations across the country. Fourth, alongside the NABH standards, a guideline for standardisation of treatment to be designed, introduced and adherence to be mandated. In the absence of this guideline and compulsion to adhere it to, the debate is often focused on the cost of care rather than the quality and appropriateness of care.
Fifth is to define a robust roadmap for tackling NCDs and rolling out a high-impact public-health intervention and ensuring multistakeholder engagement. Sixth, to invest in an IT backbone for healthcare and provide incentives for adoption. Link a nationally hosted personal health record to the UID or Aadhaar. Promote and encourage m-health. Build competency in HTAs, through publicly funded products and services, and also rationally determine their pricing through procedures like Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), India’s national health programme.
Seven, to create an enabling ecosystem that provides incentives for private investment in delivery infrastructure, medical education, R&D and domestic manufacturing. And finally, to adopt a mission like approach for India-focused drug R&D and for public health initiatives such as vaccination coverage. Also, accelerate innovation and Made in India solutions including holistic health, yoga and evidence based alternative medicine.
The demonetisation in 2016 has given India a step up in its endeavour towards being known as a transparent country, one that is free of corruption – a positive signal to investors. Now, with healthcare transformation as our next imperative, it would further strengthen our place in the global marketplace and more importantly save our people and show them that we care for all.
Regulatory clarity, disruptive technological transformations, a collaborative approach and participation from every citizen is pivotal to build a healthier and happier India. This I believe needs to be a priority as it is just as important as building a digital economy.
Sangita Reddy is Joint Managing Director, Apollo Hospitals
The views expressed are personal