Healthcare sector to see 15-18 per cent annual growth once Covid recedes to endemic stage: Dilip Jose – The Hindu BusinessLine

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Dilip Jose, MD & CEO, Manipal Hospitals

We would hope that the healthcare sector continues to receive the focussed attention as in the last year, says MD & CEO of Manipal Hospitals

How has the healthcare sector responded in the last two years to the pandemic?

This pandemic is arguably the severest test that our healthcare system has faced so far and only the courage and resilience of the frontline clinical teams helped the country weather the storm. While, as expected, hospitals took the lead, all constituents of the entire healthcare ecosystem including pharma, medtech and insurance companies collaborated to put up an agile response to the situation. Dealing with a novel and virulent virus required innovation, adaptability and speed and the sector was able to rise to that challenge. Looking back now, after 18 months, it would seem that India has fared better in comparison with many other nations that have more resources. However, another aspect to keep in mind is that the focus on Covid has had the effect of the needs of other patients not getting adequate attention sometimes and there is a concern of what that might lead to.

Covid also brought the shortcomings in our healthcare infrastructure in much sharper focus than ever before and perhaps the silver lining, if one can call it that, is the quick actions by the Governments at the Centre and States to direct much needed investments into correcting that. Hopefully, the momentum and intent would sustain and as a country we would be better placed to tackle another pandemic, should that occur.

Now, with the surge in Omicron cases, do you think India’s healthcare system is well-equipped if hospitalisation numbers increase?

The Omicron situation is still evolving in India and it might be some weeks yet before we have a clearer understanding of it. Early reports from other countries where this variant has been prevalent now for some weeks are that the severity of the disease is not seen to be very high, although the infectivity is. Therefore, the hospitalisation requirements have not yet been unmanageable. If that plays out to be the case in India too, then we may not end up witnessing a repeat of the impact of the second wave that took place during May-August of 2021. However, we cannot be complacent and would need to be prepared for the worst case, absorbing all the lessons of the second wave – in terms of infrastructure readiness, availability of drugs and oxygen and of course preparedness by our healthcare teams.

Do you think India’s healthcare sector – as an investment opportunity – looks promising?

The fundamental drivers of growth of hospitals in India are the following – shift in demographics to an ageing population, sharp increase in non-communicable or lifestyle diseases as opposed to infectious, increase in access as well as affordability and a rising awareness of health issues. These are sustainable drivers and agnostic to the impact of pandemic. Therefore, once Covid recedes to an endemic stage and normalcy returns, the healthcare sector should resume its growth trajectory of the past i.e., an annual growth of about 15 to 18 per cent. Therefore, the sector should continue to attract investments since such decisions are always made on long-term considerations.

Hospitals would need to invest when tapping into the expected rise in demand, by creating additional capacities especially in under-served parts of the country, developing and nurturing talent as well as in ensuring a differentiated patient experience and outcome. Investing in these ahead of the curve would separate the leaders from the rest.

The last Economic Survey had highlighted the need for regulating the Healthcare sector which is largely dominated by the Private Sector. What do you have to say about it?

Several aspects of the healthcare sector are already regulated – be it pricing of drugs or devices, insurance products etc. A proposal for more regulations are welcome if there is a clear purpose and a non-overlapping mandate with regulators already in place. This sector is core to the wellbeing of our people and it is the collective responsibility of all stakeholders to ensure that there is transparency. Several of the new initiatives of the Government, including the National Digital Health Mission would help with that process.

What are your budget expectations from the Government?

We would hope that the healthcare sector continues to receive the focussed attention as in the last year and we fast track our journey to reach a spend of at least 3 per cent of the GDP by the end of this decade, with much of that going towards creation of infrastructure as well as in primary and preventive care.

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