How to make healthcare affordable and accessible – The Hindu BusinessLine

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Public-private partnerships in diagnostics, technology and life-saving treatments can assist under-served communities

The government is working with the private sector to improve healthcare  | Photo Credit: JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

The New Year brings with it a sense of hope and optimism. It is also important to reflect, acknowledge the gains and the missed opportunities in 2022. Last year, the world dealt with the aftermath of Covid-19 and the spectre of the pandemic still lurks among us. Nations are also battling the economic headwinds in the light of the Russia-Ukraine war, fighting inflation and establishing socio-economic stability.

As we look back, we can spotlight our healthcare system that helped the nation battle the pandemic and has gained global recognition for its vaccine production, efforts to democratise vaccination and the hard-work of our healthcare workers. As of December 2022, India has administered over 2.19 billion doses overall, including first, second, and precautionary (booster) doses. The emergency and scale of the Covid pandemic called for innovations in R&D, smart technology implementation, fast-paced digital solutions, quick clinical trials, cross-border collaborations, swift ramping-up of manufacturing capabilities and supply-chain and distribution efficiencies.

The two biggest challenges in the sustained availability of equitable healthcare in India are affordability and accessibility, especially for the under-served communities. However, the pandemic has demonstrated how public-private partnerships (PPPs) might address these concerns in India by working together on diagnostics, technology and life-saving treatments.

PPPs in healthcare has evolved significantly since it became a health sector policy initiative post the 1990s economic reforms.

Policy support over the years ensured PPPs became one of the mainstays and integral part of India’s National Health Mission (NHM).

During Covid, we saw how the private sector joined hands to augment public health facilities in providing medical oxygen, cryogenic containers, portable concentrators, and generators.

The government aims to spend at least 2.5 per cent of GDP on healthcare annually. Currently it spends 1.9 per cent, compared with 1.2 per cent in FY14. Despite a consistent rise, the expenditure levels are still significantly lower than the 8-9 per cent of GDP spent annually by major economies. Hence, it is critical for the private sector to collaborate and plug this gap to the maximum extent possible.

The government is working with the private sector to improve healthcare. This includes pooling in the expertise and finances of the private sector, as well as the access and subsidies of the public sector.

Currently, PPPs operate across multiple healthcare services including: health service management like managing public health centres, mobile medical units, ambulances, and diagnostic facilities; supporting government health programmes like family planning, disease control, leprosy, etc; and non-clinical services like biowaste management, maintaining medical equipment, etc.

As underlined by the World Economic Forum (WEF) recently, there are new avenues where PPPs can be explored to efficiently leverage upon the capital, expertise and technology available with private players in India.

In 2023, it is time to leverage and prepare for newer challenges as well as opportunities. India’s economy has shown resilience against a challenging external environment primarily due to strong macroeconomic fundamentals.

The writer is Vice-Chairperson of Piramal Group

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