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Public Private Collaboration: Need Of The Hour To Combat COVID-19

India needs to refine its strategies for public-private partnership (PPP), boost trade and ensure support for the people and communities most affected by the disease.

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With total case tally over 2.8 lakhs, it is difficult to predict that when the outbreak will end. However, to encounter this global emergency, the need of hour is the global collaboration and coordination. No doubt, we have seen some wonderful partnerships between global firms and governments emerging from crisis to combat the endless requirement of essential supplies like masks, ventilators and PPEs.

Recent example of public private partnership was set by Diageo India which pledged 3,00,000 litres of bulk hand sanitiser, to be produced at 15 of its manufacturing units in the country. We also saw how Johnson & Johnson came forward to support the Maharashtra Government by donating 2,00,000 units of surgical masks 2/3 ply mask, 10,000 units of N95 Masks and 7000 Personal Protective Equipment.

Reports have also emerged to say that Government is now procuring a major share of its testing kits from domestic players. High spec ventilators from Mahindra’s are now under production as well. In between the promising slogans of self-sufficiency, we are still relying on the U.S. for 200 more ventilators. The resurgence for “Vocal for Local” would not work without best quality medical care for patients which is fortunately not limited by geographic boundaries.

In times when we all are looking for self-reliant India, role and support of private players to Governments cannot be undermined. While the PPP model seems to be giving the indigenous market the much-needed boost, the big question is— should India restrict the public-private partnership approach to only domestic players alone?

We need sustainable strategies to prevent and mitigate such epidemics, especially now when the catastrophic cost is a matter of concern for about half the world’s population currently in lockdown of some sort or the other. One tried and tested option is for the public sector to step in and collaborate with the private sector to provide the needed funding and support.

Next two months are crucial for India, as the lives and livelihoods of 1.3 billion Indians depend on the work that lies ahead. While it is encouraging to see how India is taking steps like waiving customs duty on the imports of ventilators, COVID-19 test kits, surgical masks, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it is imperative that we use this time as an opportunity to strengthen India’s volatile relationship with Foreign Direct Investment. Both, public and the private sectors will have to join hands, before the pandemic takes a heavy toll.

India needs to refine its strategies for public-private partnership (PPP), boost trade and ensure support for the people and communities most affected by the disease. In India, it is imperative to implement effective containment strategies, increase testing capacity, enhance emergency response systems and develop life-saving medical interventions. Considering the status quo, if there is ever a time for public and private sectors to work in tandem, I strongly believe it is now.

The Road to Global Partnerships with Progressive Policies

The COVID-19 times have multi-layered lessons for the Indian healthcare system, the most important being— the need for a handshake, at both global and national level – between public authorities and private firms. Ironically, at a time when the world is collaborating for innovations in healthcare – for a vaccine and technological advances, we are still struggling with policy decisions that can severely damage this exchange and made global inventions inaccessible. Before the pandemic impact had hit home to boost its nascent domestic industry Indian government put an additional 5% health cess on all the global medical devices, taking effective duty on some imported medical devices to 27.4%.

India currently imports over 80 percent of medical devices, most of which do not have local manufacturers available or limited ones. In times like these, the increase in duty will not only make life-saving technology unaffordable for the Indian populace but also increase black marketing as Indian’s neighbours – Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka without an additional tax. Now, we have seen uneven regulation denting India’s relationship with global companies in the past.

In a healthcare system like ours, an inward-looking approach to mitigate the crisis will only add to the number of challenges. For instance, who will pay for the additional health cess? For a country that is largely dependent on imports for its medical needs, a holistic environment that can encourage international manufacturers to invest and innovate more is needed. There is a dire requirement of consistent and robust policies where investors can make long-haul plans for India. As the government strengthens its resolve to fight COVID-19 and make affordable healthcare a new reality, the efforts fall flat in the absence of quality healthcare. All said and done, a patient lies in the centre of crises who has a hope of receiving a better-quality treatment. The partnership between corporates and government can improve overall healthcare infrastructure with an assurance of better quality of life to the patients.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Dr Gajendra Singh

The author is a Public Health Specialist

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