Poor healthcare infrastructure:
As per the Government’s own estimate, India records:
1. A shortage of 4803 Primary Health Centres (PHC)
2. A shortage of 2653 Community Health Centres (CHC)
3. No large Public Hospitals in rural areas where over 70% of the populations live
4. Density of doctors in India is just 0.6 per 1000 population against 1.4 and 0.8 per 1000 population in China and Pakistan respectively, as reported by WHO.
The Government spending in India towards healthcare is just 1.1% of GDP, against 2% by China and 1.6% by Sri Lanka, as reported by the WHO.
Some good but sporadic public healthcare initiatives:
The government allocation of around US$ 2.3 billion for the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), is a good initiative to bring about uniformity in quality of preventive and curative healthcare in rural areas across the country.
While hoping for the success of NRHM, inadequacy of the current rural healthcare infrastructure with about 80 percent of doctors, 75 percent dispensaries and 60 percent of hospitals located only in the urban India, may encourage skepticism.
Addressing the issue of improving access to healthcare:
While addressing the issue of improving access of healthcare, following three important ‘Public Private Partnership (PPP)’ initiatives would be most appropriate.
1. PPP to improve affordability:
To address this vexing problem, industry associations had jointly suggested a policy shift towards public-private-partnership (PPP) model to the government in 2006-07, instead of a stringent price control mechanism, which has not worked thus far to improve access of modern medicines, in India. Instead, the associations seemed to have suggested that the pharmaceutical industry will supply to the government the essential medicines at 50% of their Maximum Retail Price (MRP), to cater to the need of below the poverty line (BPL) families.
It is worth mentioning, many OPPI member companies like, Novartis, GSK, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis etc. have their own access to medicines programs in India.
Although the government did not respond to this proposal, to make it effective the ministry of health will require to quickly initiate significant ‘capacity building’ exercises, both in the primary and also in the secondary public healthcare facilities in the country. FICCI is reported to have suggested to the Government for an investment of around US$ 80 billion to create over 2 million hospital beds, for such capacity building exercises .
Frugal budget allocation by the government towards healthcare of the country, suggests that Government is gradually shifting its role in this very important area, primarily from healthcare provider to healthcare facilitator for the private sectors to develop it further. If it is so, it is imperative for the government to realize that the lack of even basic primary healthcare infrastructure, leave aside other incentives, impede effective penetration of private sectors into semi-urban and rural areas. Effective PPP model should be worked out to address such issues, without further delay.
2. PPP to leverage the strength of Information Technology (IT) to considerably neutralize the system weaknesses:
Excellence in ‘Information Technology’ (IT) is one of the well recognized strengths that India currently possesses. This strengths needs to be adequately leveraged through PPP to neutralize the above weaknesses. Harnessing IT strengths, especially in the areas of drug procurement and delivery processes, especially in remote places, could hone the healthcare delivery mechanism, immensely.
Another IT enabled technology that India can widely use across the nation to address rural healthcare issues is ‘‘Telemedicine’ for distant diagnosis and treatment of ailments. Required medicines for treatment could be made available to the patients through ‘Jan Aushadhi’ initiative of the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP), by utilising the Government controlled distribution outlets like, public distribution system (ration shops) and post offices, which are located even in far flung and remote villages of India.
3. PPP in healthcare financing for all:
Unlike many other countries, even as compared to China, over 72 percent of Indian population pay out of pocket to meet their healthcare expenses.
Out of a population of 1.3 billion in China, 250 million are covered by insurance; another 250 million are partially covered by insurance and balance 800 million are not covered by any insurance. Converse to this scenario, in India total number of population who may have some sort of healthcare financing coverage will be around 200 million with penetration of health insurance at just around 3.5% of the population. India is fast losing grounds to China mainly due to better response to healthcare infrastructure.
Even after leveraging IT for ‘Telemedicine’ and improving healthcare delivery processes, together with availability of low priced quality medicines from ‘Jan Aushadhi’ outlets, a robust healthcare financing model for all strata of society to make healthcare products/services affordable to a vast majority of the population, will remain an essential requirement for the country to address the issue of improving access to healthcare to all.
According to a survey done by National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), 40% of the people hospitalised in India borrow money or sell assets to cover their medical expenses. A large number of populations cannot afford to pay for the required treatment, at all.
In my view an integrated approach for creating effective healthcare infrastructure throughout the country, leveraging IT in the entire healthcare space, appropriately structured ‘Health Insurance’ schemes for all strata of society ably supported by well spread out ‘Jan Aushadhi’ outlets even in far flung rural areas, deserve careful consideration by the Government.
A PPP model in all these three areas needs to be worked out in detail to address the pressing issue of improving ‘Access to Affordable Integrated Healthcare to ALL’.
By Tapan Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.