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Union Budget 2021-22 Needs To Focus On Making India Healthy

Phytopharmaceuticals is another huge opportunity for the pharma industry in India. To ensure viability and growth of the industry, there needs to be serious thought and incentives should be provided.

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Covid 19 situation has brought ‘Healthcare’ to be the prime focus of the Union Budget 2021-22. Strategic and implementable ideas have to be brought on board to make them real in India. As the Pharmaceutical industry eagerly wait for reforms to face the challenges of the post-lockdown phase, a lot needs to be done in an evolving way to implement the long-term strategic goal of a ‘Healthy India’.

1. India’s total healthcare spending is currently around 3.6% of GDP with a large chunk of it being out-of-pocket expenses paid directly by patients due to low health insurance penetration and low government spending. To place it in perspective, the government currently spends 1.3% of GDP on public health with a plan to increase allocation to 2.5% by 2025 as outlined in the National Health Policy 2017. Compare this to developed countries like the US that spend close to 14.3% of GDP on public health or even OECD countries that on an average spend 7.6%, and we have a huge gap that needs to be addressed.

2. While there is an expectation that higher allocations will be made to schemes such as Jan Aushadhi (Rs 50 crore currently) and Ayushman Bharat in light of the pandemic, a lot more needs to be done to ensure universal healthcare access for all.

3. Health is largely a state issue in the country. However, the Central Government can play a crucial role in terms of enabling health policies, programmes and resources pertaining to health. Policy, procedures and SOPs need to be formulated by the Centre to evaluate and enhance the participation of states.

4. For the Indian pharma and healthcare industry to replicate the IT story and emerge as a technology and innovation hub, the budget should aim at addressing the following issues:

· India is referred to as the pharmacy for the world, but currently imports around 70 percent of its API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) requirements from China. This dependency needs to be reduced. It cannot happen without active government intervention. More Product Linked Incentives (PLIs) and Sops for investments in the space with help India become Atmanirbhar in APIs

· In developed countries, private investments in R&D are around double that of the government. In India however, the ratio is the opposite. A conducive policy framework that encourages private investments is the need of the hour. As we take the lead in innovation for vaccines, R&D efforts showing results on specific parameters could be further incentivised

· The pandemic also exposed the fragility of our primary secondary health care systems. A number of low-cost portable innovations are being developed in the country that covers the entire gamut of tele diagnostics to telemedicine and follow ups. To ensure better access to healthcare for all, a policy framework is needed in an IT enabled world.

· Artificial intelligence and Machine Learning in pharma needs to be promoted and a special allocation for pharma start-ups with time bound progress should be established

· Phytopharmaceuticals is another huge opportunity for the pharma industry in India. To ensure viability and growth of the industry, there needs to be serious thought and incentives should be provided.

· Of the three major Sustainable Development Goals adopted, India has been lagging on meeting key parameters. To achieve this, a framework that looks at not just policy formulation, but backs it up with resource allocation and implementation is needed.

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 R B Smarta

The author is Managing Director of Interlink; Vice President (HADSA)

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