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A Step Towards a Future Ready Healthcare System

The government needs to enhance healthcare spending from 1.5 per cent of the GDP to at least 2.5 per cent, thereby better managing and assisting in the sector’s transformation.

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At a time when every nation and its healthcare ecosystem has been struggling to overcome the far-reaching impact of the pandemic, India in the last two years has displayed exceptional resilience and forward-thinking in dealing with the crisis. The successful vaccination programme is a commendable example. Until early February, India had administered over 1.67 billion doses overall, including first, second and precautionary (booster) doses of the currently approved vaccines. 

In India, 92 per cent of the eligible population (older than 15 yrs) has received at least one shot, and 70 per cent of these are fully vaccinated. Moreover, the work done in terms of innovation in medical technology and access to critical medical resources during the first, second wave and now the third wave is noteworthy. 

Building on a Good Foundation

The Union Budget 2022 was expected to build on these achievements and set forth a blueprint to create a robust and future-ready healthcare system for India, one that thrives on innovation, quality and affordability. In that backdrop, the Union Budget sets the right stage for India’s digital health transformation. 

The announcement of an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem is visionary. The open platform will not only help in broadening coverage to rural and urban India but will also help in tracking individuals through the unique health identifier and digitised health records. By creating a digital registry of healthcare providers and facilities available, consumers will be able to view and compare various healthcare providers based on individual preferences, allowing for the transfer of relevant information to take place smoothly.

The Big Moves 

Another applauding move was the introduction of the National Tele Mental Health Programme. The pandemic has compelled us to not only focus on physical health but also to ascertain our mental wellbeing as a whole. It is encouraging to see that the government will be setting up mental health counselling and care services as part of this programme. This will be an important initiative that will have a wide range of benefits to the common man. 

With a rise in Capex of 35.4 per cent from the previous year, Rs. 5.54 lakh crore to Rs. 7.50 lakh crore, we look forward to improved health facilities at the district level and ensuring that quality healthcare reaches all tier-2, tier-3, tier-4 and smaller villages of India.

We hope that earmarked Capex will be utilised to provide the nation’s healthcare infrastructure with the much-needed respite. Through the overburdening of existing resources, we may once again face a situation where the entire system may crumble if adequate measures are not taken. Hence, India’s healthcare system needs more focus to build its strength and prepare for the future.

More Still Needed

The government needs to enhance healthcare spending from 1.5 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product to at least 2.5 per cent. Increased health spending also stems from the fact that India needs to ensure equitable access to healthcare by building a more reliable and responsive infrastructure. There has been an urgent demand of managing the ever-increasing pressure on healthcare by providing an affordable supply of services across geographic and socioeconomic boundaries. The Union Budget needed to address these significant points in its overall healthcare agenda.

India needs to create a conducive environment for medtech transformation that focuses on improving the country’s health trajectory. By reducing customs duties to around 2.5 per cent on both finished medical devices and components and reducing GST on medical devices from 12 per cent to 5 per cent, the industry could become an active contributor in increasing the affordability of medical devices for patient care. This would eventually lead us to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)-3.

Also, the government should have created provisions for skilling and up-skilling of healthcare workers at primary, secondary and even tertiary care centres. This will help in creating a reserve of skilled human resources ready for deployment in an emergency and develop a strong and efficient referral system. 

The Misses

There is still a lot that remains unaddressed in the Union Budget. The pandemic changed the customer perception about diagnostics leading to greater adoption of diagnostic services. With 70 per cent of all medical decisions dependent on laboratory results, the role that diagnostic care plays in the nation’s healthcare framework is significant and cannot be undermined. With the country going through another wave of infections, the dependence on the diagnostic sector has increased manifold.

We need to create an interdependent robust ecosystem that fosters innovations and promotes public health strategies. There is a growing consensus that a push in terms of research and development, artificial intelligence and reduction in taxes would be the natural way of progression. In addition, through tax reduction, initiating tax breaks and supporting public and private partnerships, the government needs to be actively involved in building an ecosystem that ensures equitable access to healthcare for all. This is vital to decrease out-of-pocket expenditure on healthcare in India.

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.

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healthcare Narendra Varde Magazine 22 Feb 2022

Narendra Varde

The author is Managing Director, Roche Diagnostics

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