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Healthcare: Time For A Booster Dose?

The Covid-19 outbreak has exposed the limitations of India’s healthcare set-up, but it has also thrown up opportunities for the sector as a whole

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Like elsewhere in the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the massive inadequacy of the Indian healthcare system as well. With just 7.14 lakh government hospital beds, fewer than 20,000 ventilators, and hugely inadequate testing facilities, the healthcare set up is simply not used to and capable of tackling any large-scale medical emergency like the coronavirus outbreak. 

A recent report says India will require around 27 million N95 masks, 15 million Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), 1.6 million diagnostic kits, and 50,000 ventilators by June 2020. Dr Prathap C. Reddy, Chairman, Apollo Hospitals Group says, “We are fighting a war not just for this generation but also for the generations to come.” 

Renowned doctor and founder of Medanta Hospital Naresh Trehan says the government is doing all it can to contain the disease. “However, it will be great if the government sets up hospitals and quarantines as designated Covid-19 centres. These could be set up in non-functional hospitals or buildings instead of working hospitals as such an experiment has been done in Mumbai,” says Trehan who heads the CII’s Healthcare Committee. 

With India’s public expenditure on health under 1.3 per cent of the GDP, far more is required by both central and state governments. Sangita Reddy, Joint Managing Director, Apollo Hospitals Group & President, FICCI says the next 10-15 days will be crucial in terms of dealing with the virus and its economic impact. 

Positive Vibes 

Not all is lost thanks to the robust presence of leading pharmaceutical companies, world-class R&D centres and a competent health-tech sector — all joining in and standing up to deliver what India needs today. “Going forward, the government should encourage ‘Make in India’ for the healthcare sector in a very big way,” says Arvind Subramanian, the previous chief economic adviser in the Modi government. Agrees Alok Deshpande, Analyst, Edelweiss Securities, “For pharma companies, the business impact is likely to be low given the domestic business model and product portfolios that are aligned to chronic illnesses.” 

According to ICICI Securities, the Indian pharmaceutical industry has seen 12.1 per cent growth in February this year and benefitted from stocking up of medicines. Due to its domestic exposure, several indigenous pharmaceutical companies have not seen any meaningful impact on the continuity of medical supplies or logistics. “Pharma industry was agile enough to take an early call as we digitized the operations across functions to ensure business continuity,” says Manoj Saxena, Managing Director, Bayer Zydus Pharma. Although there are some logistical issues due to the nationwide lockdown, the pharmacies are adequately stocked up, he says.

“There may be plausible supply disruptions. However, chronic based medicines would witness consistent demand in the near- to midterm scenario,” says Madhu Rao, Technical Director & a former Senior DirectorSouth Asia, Sanofi. 

Arindam Guha, Partner, Deloitte India says the resultant economic disruption will take time to address and any government response will also need to be properly calibrated and taken over a period of time. “The country needs a complete lockdown while the government invests more to boost healthcare resources, services and support specific sectors like health,” he adds.

What’s Thriving, What’s Not? 

A recent report says leading hospital
chains including Apollo, Fortis,
Narayana Hrudayalaya and Aster
DM, a global player, has witnessed a
20-30 per cent drop in admitted
patients. Elective procedures and
medical tourism, which was a major
source of revenue for these companies has taken a big hit due to Covid-19 outbreak. Medical tourism
has been contributing 10-12 per cent
to the overall revenue of leading private hospital chains. “The fiscal damage is estimated at nearly $2.5 billion
if the pandemic persists across the world for six months,” says Amit
Sharma, Founder and CEO of eExpedise Healthcare, adding that this is
equivalent to the revenue generated
over eight months.

To combat the decline in regular
business and deal with the current the situation, Aster DM has come up
with teleconsultation, Aster Covid
Support Centre. Dr Azad Moopen,
Founder-Chairman and Managing
Director, Aster DM Healthcare says,
“In these trying times, we would like
to put every possible measure in the place to help people identify symptoms related to the coronavirus and
get appropriate help on time.”

Tele-consultation leader Practo has seen over 30 per cent increase in health queries from Tier II and Tier III cities. “It may not be there to administer full treatment, but will make a positive difference in screening patients, protecting healthcare workers and containing the spread of the infection,” says Dr Alexander Kuruvilla, Chief Healthcare Strategy Officer, Practo. The pharmacy business in the meantime is seeing an uptick in demand, especially in the sale of chronic segment medicines. 

The biggest learning from the Covid-19 outbreak for Indian administrators is that the public healthcare infrastructure needs to improve in a big way going forward. Let’s act now!  

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