A Tipping Point For Robust Healthcare System In India

“Given the popular uptake of universal health coverage reforms elsewhere in Asia, the Feb 4 elections may be a tipping point for health in India. For example, in 2012, Joko Widodo was elected Governor of Jakarta. He launched popular UHC reforms in the capital and 2 years later was elected president. In 2016, voters in the USA and UK supported politicians prepared to act on the concerns of the electorate. If health becomes a populist cause in India, rather than a political inconvenience, then the country might finally be liberated to achieve health outcomes commensurate with its economic and technical achievements”, is exactly what appeared in the editorial of The Lancet, titled “Health in India, 2017,” published on January 14, 2017.

The Lancet Editor further reiterated: “Because states have responsibility for health, the elections will raise the importance of access to quality, affordable health care in India, regardless of the electoral outcome. It is a debate that needs to be fostered.”

This is, of course, a ‘top-down’ approach for healthcare, as seen in several countries across the world. However, I have recently deliberated another approach in the same area on – why a ‘bottom-up’ demand is not forthcoming in India, in an article titled ‘Healthcare in India And Hierarchy of Needs’, published in this blog on November 06, 2017.

No one, including any Government, would possibly ever argue – why shouldn’t a robust public healthcare system in a country, including the availability of reasonably affordable drugs, assume as much priority as economic growth and education?

On the contrary, Governments in several other countries, including those with a well-functioning Universal Healthcare (UHC) in place, are trying to ensure even better and greater access to healthcare for all, by various different means. In this article, I shall focus on it, in a holistic way.

Exploring a bottom-up approach:

It is increasingly becoming more evident that a bottom-up approach would help yield greater success in this area, with a win-win outcome. It will involve taking the stakeholders on board in the process of framing and implementing healthcare projects within a given time-frame. The question then arises, why is it still not happening on the ground in India the way it should? Just floating a discussion paper on draft projects and policies, for stakeholders’ inputs, isn’t enough any longer. There is a need to move much beyond that in making these decisions more inclusive.

Various successive Governments may have some justifiable funding related or other pressing issues to offer a robust public healthcare system in India. But, none of these will be an insurmountable barrier, if more number of heads of astute stakeholders are involved in ferreting out an effective and implementable India-specific solution in this area, within a pre-determined timeline.

There are examples of remarkable progress in this direction, by involving stakeholders in charting out a workable pathway, agreed by all, and jointly implemented in a well-calibrated and time bound manner. Equally important is to make this plan known to the public, so that the Government can be held accountable, if it falls short of this promise, or even misses any prescribed timeline.

‘The Accelerated Access Pathway’ initiative:

Let me now draw an interesting example of involving stakeholders by the Government to improve patient access to expensive and innovative drugs. This example comes from a country that is running one of the oldest and most efficient UHC in the world – the United Kingdom.

Despite a robust UHC being in place, the National Health Service (NHS) in England had a perennial problem to make ‘breakthrough’ medicines available early to NHS patients. The British pharma industry reportedly had a long-held complaint that patients in England get a raw deal when it comes to accessing the latest medicines.

According to a reported study by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and endorsed by the charity Cancer Research UK, average British patients get lower access to leading cancer medicines than their European counterparts.

To resolve this issue effectively, the British Government launched ‘The Accelerated Access Pathway initiative’. Former GSK global CEO Sir Andrew Witty was named as the chairman of this collaborative body. The scheme, launching from April 2018, will see approvals of cutting-edge treatments for conditions like cancer, dementia and diabetes dramatically speeding up. The pathway is expected to get ‘breakthrough’ medicines to NHS patients up to four years earlier, as the report, published in ‘The Telegraph’ on November 3, 2017 indicates.

It is believed that ‘Accelerated Access Collaborative’ initiative would benefit the NHS patients, as well as deliver significant long-term savings for the health service.

Similar initiatives may be effective in India:

Taking collaborative initiatives, such as above, may not be absolutely new in India. However, in a real sense, Indian initiatives are no more than top-down approaches, and not in any way be termed as bottom-up. Moreover, these usually originate in the form of Government discussion papers inviting comments from the stakeholders.

Moreover, in the healthcare policy related arena, there is no subsequent firm resolve by the Government to chart out a clear pathway for its effective implementation, with specific timelines indicated for each step, besides assigning individual accountability for delivering the intended deliverables.

Any such decisive move by the government, keeping all stakeholders engaged is quite rare to come across in our country, as yet. Thus, carefully selected outside expert group suggestions based – the National Health Policies also have met with the same fate, without possibly any exception, thus far.

Two illustrations:

I shall illustrate the above point with two top-of-mind examples. The first one is a report – the ‘High Level Expert Group (HLEG)’ report on ‘Universal Health Coverage (UHC)’ for India, submitted to the erstwhile Planning Commission in November 2011. The other example is of a policy – the National Health Policy (NHP) 2017, which is in place now, based on a report by an expert committee constituted by the Government.

Let me now briefly recapitulate both – one by one, as follows:

The report on ‘Universal Health Coverage (UHC)’ for India

The ‘High Level Expert Group (HLEG)’ on ‘Universal Health Coverage (UHC)’ was constituted by the Planning Commission of India in October 2010, with the mandate of developing a framework for providing easily accessible and affordable health care to all Indians.

While financial protection for healthcare was the principal objective of this initiative, it was recognized that the delivery of UHC also requires the availability of adequate health infrastructure, skilled health workforce, access to affordable drugs and technologies to ensure the entitled level and quality of healthcare is delivered to every citizen.

The report further highlighted, the design and delivery of health programs and services call for efficient management systems as well as active engagement of empowered communities.

The original terms of reference directed the HLEG to address all of these needs of UHC. Since the social determinants of health have a profound influence not only on the health of populations, but also on the ability of individuals to access healthcare, the HLEG decided to include a clear reference to them.

Nevertheless, this report was never acted upon for its effective implementation. Now, with the change in Government, HLEG recommendations for UHC in India seems to have lost its relevance, altogether.

The National Health Policy (NHP) 2017

The new Government that subsequently came to power, decided to start afresh with a brand new and modern National Health Policy in India, replacing the previous one framed 15 years ago in 2002. NHP 2017 promises healthcare in an ‘assured manner’ to all, by addressing the challenges in the changing socioeconomic, epidemiological and technological scenarios. Accordingly, the National Health Policy 2017 was put in place, early this year.

To achieve the objectives, NHP 2017 intends to raise public healthcare expenditure to 2.5 percent of GDP from the current 1.4 percent. Interestingly, no visible signal about the seriousness on implementation of this laudable initiative has reached the public, just yet.

Let’s now wait for the next year’s budget to ascertain whether the policy objective of ‘healthcare in an assured manner to all’ would continue to remain a pipe dream, as happened in earlier budget proposals. It is noteworthy that union budget allocation on health did not go up, at least, in the last 3 years, despite categorical assurances by the ministers on increasing focus on healthcare.

Significant increase in both the union and the state governments budgetary allocation for healthcare is necessary. This is because, besides many other intents, NHP 2017 intends to provide free diagnostics, free drugs and free emergency and essential healthcare services in all public hospitals for healthcare access and financial protection to all.

Universal Healthcare is the core point in both:

The core focus of both – the HLEG report and also the NHP 2017, is UHC in India, but with different approaches. When HLEG report was not translated into reality, the 2014 general election in India was widely expected to be the tipping point for a new public healthcare landscape in the country fulfilling this promise. More so, as the public healthcare system is generally in a shamble throughout the country, except in a handful of states.

Just as in the United States, Europe or Japan, “if health becomes a populist cause in India, rather than a political inconvenience, then the country might finally be liberated to achieve health outcomes commensurate with its economic and technical achievements,” as the above Lancet editorial commented.  Giving yet another perspective, I also wrote in my blog post, titled ‘Healthcare in India And Hierarchy of Needs’ on November 06, 2017, why has it not happened in India, as on date.


What happens, if the Indian Government too adopts a major collaborative approach, such as ‘The Accelerated Access Pathway’ initiatives, involving all stakeholders – including the pharma and device industry leaders to implement UHC in the country – part by part?

The relevant counter question to this should not be – Will that work? Of course, it will, if the Government wants to. On the contrary, it could be a potential ‘Tipping Point’ to create a robust public healthcare landscape in India. Thus, the real question that we should ask ourselves: Why won’t it work, when all stakeholders are on board to pave the pathway for an efficient Universal Healthcare system in India, in a win-win way?

By: Tapan J. 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.

Healthcare Industry of India: Being catapulted from a labyrinth to an accelerated growth trajectory

As reported by the ‘World Health Statistics 2011′, India spends around 4.2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health, which is quite comparable with other BRIC countries like, China and Russia.This has been possible mainly due to increasing participation of the private players in the healthcare sector.

The following table will highlight this point:

Health Expenditure:

Type Brazil Russia India China
Exp. on Health (% of GDP)





Govt. Exp. on Health  (% of Total Exp. on Health)





Pvt. Exp. on Health      (% of Total Exp. on Health)





Govt. Exp. on Health    (% of Total Govt. Exp.)





Social Security Exp. on Health (% of General Govt. Exp. on Health)





However, the following healthcare indicators suggest quite clearly that the total expenditure on healthcare by a country is not always directly proportional to its health outcome. This holds good for many countries across the world, including the USA, as the overall healthcare system  and more importantly its cost effective delivery mechanism are the key determinants of success:

Health Indicators:

Type Brazil Russia India China
Life Expectancy at birth





Neonatal Mortality Rate  (Per 1000)





Infant  Mortality Rate MDG 4  (Per 1000)





Maternal   Mortality Rate MDG 5(Per 1000,000 birth)





Source: World Health Statistics 2011

Fueled by the increasing participation of private players, coupled with a hefty hike in public expenditure on health to 2.5 percent of GDP during the 12th Five Year Plan Period, the Indian healthcare sector, currently at US$ 65 billion, is expected to reach US$ 100 billion by 2015 (Source: Fitch), increasing the total spend of the country on health to around 6.8 percent of GDP during this period.

The expenditure towards healthcare infrastructure is expected to grow by 50 percent from its 2006 number to reach US$ 14.2 billion in 2013, as reported by KPMG.

Growth Drivers:

The key growth drivers are expected to be as follows:

  • A hefty hike in Government expenditure as a percentage to GDP for health
  • 1% of the growing population coming above the poverty line every year
  • Growing middle class population
  • Increasing incidence of non-infectious chronic illnesses and other life style diseases
  • Reasonable  treatment costs due to intense competition and government intervention on health related issues
  • Large public healthcare projects like, National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), National Urban Health Mission (NUHM), ‘Universal Health Coverage’, distribution of free medicines through Government hospitals
  • Expansion of Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY)
  • Increasing penetration of private health insurance
  • Increasing direct procurement of medicines both by the Central and also the State Governments
  • A boom in medical tourism

The basic Challenge:

Following areas will throw a tough challenge for a sustainable growth in healthcare:

  • To reach a doctor population ratio of 1 doctor and 2.3 nurses per 1000 population by 2025 from the current 0.06 doctors and 1.3 nurses.
  • To reach a ratio of 2 beds per 1000 population by 2025 from the current 1 bed, which means India would require creating additional 1.75 million beds by that time.
  • An investment of US$ 86 billion will be needed to achieve 1 doctor, 2 beds and 2.3 nurses per 1000 population by 2025
  • Although the health insurance had a penetration to a meager 2.3 percent of the population in 2007, the sector is expected to cover just around 20 percent of the population by 2015 (Source: ICRA).

Key Developments:

  • As per the Rural Health Survey Report 2009 of the Ministry of Health, the rural healthcare sector in the country is registering an appreciable growth with the addition of the following during the last five years:

-     15,000 health sub-centers

-     20, 107 primary health centers

-     28,000 nurses and midwives

  • According to a report by research firm RNCOS, the health insurance premium is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 25 per cent from 2009-10 to 2013-14.
  • India will curve out a share of 3 percent of the global medical tourism industry (Source:RNCOS)
  • Medical technology industry of India is expected to reach US$ 14 billion by 2020 from US$ 2.7 billion in 2008, according to a report by PwC.
  • E-healthcare in rural areas is gaining popularity with the involvement of both public and private players like, ISRO, Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Center and Narayana Hrudayalaya. Some telecom companies like, Nokia and BlackBerry are also contemplating to extend the use of mobile phones for remote disease monitoring as well as diagnostic and treatment support. Introduction of 3G and in the near future 4G telecom services will further enhance opportunities of e-healthcare through mobile phones.
  • Expansion of major healthcare players in tier-II and tier-III cities of India like, Apollo, Narayana Hrudayalaya, Max Hospitals, Aravind Eye Hospitals and Fortis will help improving access to affordable healthcare in the smaller places, significantly.

Examples of expansion in smaller places:

According E&Y report of November 2010, following key players are expanding their presence in tier II and tier III cities, besides metro and tier I cities:

Company No. Of beds


Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd 8,500 Chennai, Madurai, Hyderabad, Karur, Karim Nagar, Mysore, Visakhapatnam, Bilaspur, Aragonda, Kakindada, Bengaluru, Delhi, Noida, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, (Mauritius), Pune, Raichur, Ranipet, Ranchi, Ludhiana, Indore, Bhubaneswar, (Dhaka, Bangladesh)
Aarvind Eye Hospitals 3,649 Theni, Tirunelveli, Coimbatore, Puducherry, Madurai, Amethi, Kolkata
CARE Hospitals 1,400 Hyderabad, Vijaywada, Nagpur, Raipur, Bhubaneshwar, Surat, Pune, Visakhapatnam
Fortis Healthcare Ltd 5,044 Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Mohali, Noida, Delhi, Amristar, Raipur, Jaipur, Chennai, Kota
Max Hospitals 800 Delhi and NCR
Manipal Group of Hospitals +7,000 Udupi, Bengaluru, Manipal, Attavar, Mangalore, Goa, Tumkur, Vijaywada, Kasaragod, Visakhapatnam

Source: E&Y, November 2010

Healthcare sector is attracting FDI:According to the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP), the healthcare sector is undergoing significant transformation and attracting investments not only from within the country but also from overseas.The Cumulative FDI inflow in the healthcare sector from April 2000 to November 2011, as per DIPP publications, is as follows:

Sector FDI inflow (US$ million)
Hospital and diagnostic centers 1100
Medical and surgical appliances 472.6
Drugs and pharmaceuticals 5,033

(Source: Fact Sheet on FDI (April 2000 to November 2011), DIPP)

Government Policy:

Government has also started focusing on increasing investments towards creation of a sustainable medical infrastructure, especially in the rural areas. The following policy initiatives could help facilitating this process:

  • 100 per cent FDI for health and medical services.
  • Allocation of US$ 10.15 billion to the National Rural Health Mission (NHRM) for upgradation and capacity building of rural healthcare facilities.
  • Allocation of US$ 1.23 billion to create six AIIMS type medical institutes and upgradation of 13 existing Government Medical Colleges.

Overseas players started participating:

BCG Group will open shortly a multidisciplinary health mall that would provide a one-stop solution for all healthcare needs starting from doctors, hospitals, ayurvedic centers, pharmacies including insurance referral units at Palarivattom in Kochi, Kerala. BCG’s long-term plan, as reported in the media, is to set up a health village spanning across an area of a 750,000 sq. ft. with an estimated cost of US$ 88.91 million.

Along the same line, to set up more facilities for diagnostic services in India, GE Healthcare reportedly has planned to invest US$ 50 million for this purpose.

Examples of initiatives by State Governments:

In southern India, the Government of Andhra Pradesh has implemented a Health Management Project funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) of the UK costing US$ 59.68 million. It has been reported that many other State Governments of India are planning to go for similar Health Management models in their respective States.

Improving access to modern medicines in India:

Ten year CAGR in terms of volume of the domestic pharmaceutical industry has been around 15 percent, which clearly signals significant increase in the consumption of medicines, leading to their improving access to the general population of both rural and urban India.

Extension of focus of the Indian pharmaceutical Industry, in general, to the fast growing rural markets further vindicates this point.

The rate of increase in access to medicines may not be directly commensurate to the volume growth of the industry during this period, but a major part of the industry growth could certainly be attributed towards increasing access to medicines in India, which should cover over 60% of the population of the country, by now.

Unfortunately, even the Government of India does not seem to be aware of this gradually improving trend of access to medicines in the country. Official communications of the government still quote the outdated statistics of 1998 (published in 2004), which states that 65% of the population of India does not have ‘Access to Modern Medicines’ even today. No wonder, why many of us still prefer to live on to our past.


Be that as it may, around 40% of the population still does not seem to have adequate ‘Access to Medicines’ in India. This issue though attracted attention of the policy makers, has still remained mostly unresolved and needs to be addressed following a holistic approach with the newer plans.

A robust model of healthcare financing for all socioeconomic strata of the society with plans  like, ‘Universal Health Coverage’ and continuous improvement of healthcare infrastructure and   delivery systems, as are now being planned by the astute brain trusts of India, are expected to bring significant reform in the healthcare space of India.

Let us also note at the same time that all these are happening, despite shrill voices of naysayer vested interests, continuously projecting to many of us a stagnant, dismal and never improving healthcare scenario of the country, more often than not.

Very fortunately, from an unenviable labyrinth, healthcare industry of India, at last, seems to be on the threshold of being catapulted to a higher growth trajectory riding on a decent number of both public and private initiatives, never than ever before.

Unless it is so, why will the healthcare players from across the world keep on increasing their operational focus, in every way, on India and China?

By: Tapan J 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.