Indian health system’s expansion post COVID-19: What will it take?

As we saw country after country, with the best of healthcare systems, finding themselves challenged to manage COVID19, we were also witness to what we could achieve through collective efforts.

By Siddhartha Bhattacharya, 

Health is a top priority for countries around the world today as we continue to grapple with the pandemic and its aftermaths over the last year. While we are trying to find the best possible solutions to strengthen our health systems, there are also some pertinent questions. As we usher in a new decade, there is a stronger realization among nations across the world, and particularly India, that it is necessary to introduce measures to bring in increased investments and resources into healthcare, enhance access, quality of health services, address foundational issues and improve emergency preparedness.

As we saw country after country, with the best of healthcare systems, finding themselves challenged to manage COVID19, we were also witness to what we could achieve through collective efforts. New forms of collaboration and strengthened partnerships emerged as central to the pandemic response. We saw the unprecedented speed to develop diagnostics and testing, treatments and vaccines, in the shortest possible time needed. There is no doubt greater realization that a robust healthcare trajectory for the future can only be built only through collaboration, engagement, partnerships, knowledge exchange and skill sharing. In India, the Government and the industry have often advocated for partnership models and it is now that this becomes vital to complement and augment sectorial efforts, and to build with urgency, what recent experiences have taught us.

So now, the question arises; that from medical science, research, technology to policy and implementation, how do we truly make that shift? How do we build towards the future after COVID-19, address vital gaps and improve preparedness for the challenges to come? How can private healthcare sector play a greater role today given its crucial role in managing COVID19? Can it be a powerful ally in India’s aspiration to operate a universal healthcare system, supported by an enabling financing, policy and regulatory framework? With access and quality as the benchmark goals, can the healthcare sector in India attract investments to build a modern 21st century universal healthcare delivery mode which delivers affordable excellence?

If we examine the pathways towards partnerships to expand our aperture, build sustainable & inclusive models, foster accountability and capacities, it involves engaging with varied stakeholders, collaborating with Government, identifying areas of national relevance and building advocates across spaces. Smaller and medium level healthcare players also have to lend their voice to become part of the ecosystem, so that we move towards creating new operating models and replicating good practices. We must explore platforms and opportunities to foster collective effort.

Year 2020 has provided an opportunity for healthcare federations across countries to work together while creating a common roadmap. As one unified entity, we can identify priorities and plan and implement them jointly to ensure that more and more people have access to quality care to realise the dream of universal health coverage. To achieve the long-term goal of universal health care, public and private healthcare sector have to chart a forward path together to achieve short term and long-term solutions to critical barriers. Hospitals, diagnostics, med-tech companies, pharma, IT, the academia, nursing councils have to be part of this unified effort.

A few critical issues that stakeholders today in the healthcare and allied spaces need to deliberate upon are:

Catalyzing the investment cycle in healthcare post COVID19. How do we improve access to financing to expand the investor base for healthcare? How do we harness central and state Government policies for health investments?
Can PPP models accelerate momentum to achieve Universal Health Coverage? Can we create value-based healthcare models that allow for accessible and affordable quality treatment by placing the patient at the epicenter of care?
What are the best ways to ensure sustenance of gains realized from digital modes during COVID? How do we integrate new-age digital disruptions with the existing healthcare infrastructure?

How can we reimagine health infrastructure development over the next 5 years for India and Bharat? How can we grow the base at the bottom of te pyramid to build equity in healthcare? What are the ways to decentralize to address key gaps in Bharat – the hinterland?

What are the key game changers to bridge the demand supply gap in skilling? Can we scale up vocational skills training of allied health workers?

How can we bring in much-needed reform in the senior care space to improve the quality of life? What do key stakeholders recommend, based on evidences at hand?

In the Union Budget 2021, the Government has clearly made a strong push for economic recovery and announced important measures to prioritize health for all citizens. The six pillars on which the 2021 budget rests, begin with health and well-being, as the first, followed by infrastructure, inclusive development, human capital, innovation/ R&D and good governance will foster building a self-sufficient, healthy society, and address long-standing foundational gaps in the healthcare systems. It is true that the pandemic disrupted the landscape, giving us little time for quality engagement, industry discussions and roundtable platforms. But now, with an increased budget outlay for healthcare and our Hon’ble PM reiterating for new PPP models with the private sector, this is the most opportune time to engage, deliberate and collaborate … a time for enhanced cooperation and new solutions.

( The author is Secretary-General, NATHEALTH. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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