This section collates recent developments impacting the health sector in India.
Dr. Amit Shah (USAID India) opened by reinforcing the importance of Comprehensive Primary Healthcare (CPHC) by stating that countries like Sri Lanka, which invest heavily in it, see better health outcomes. He then highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has led to greater realization and political will to invest in primary health systems. This is also an opportunity for the private sector to step in.
The first speaker, Ram Kumar (IAS), shared his experiences from the state of Meghalaya, where during the pandemic, people were resistant to visit hospitals for treatment because they felt inaccessible, unsafe, expensive. Vaccination in Meghalaya has only touched 70%. There is a mystery around healthcare and people remain resistant. However, life expectancy in Meghalaya is lower than the country average. Mr. Kumar stressed the need to demystify this by investing in primary healthcare. This is an opportunity for private providers, as they can expect to do more business in a state with low access to healthcare. They would need to build unique business models, which would rely heavily on outreach and confidence building. The huge market for healthcare is at the bottom of the pyramid. With government systems, there are limitations with speed, but with private players, there is competition and efficiency.
Next, Ms. Gayatri Oleti (L&T Charitable Trust), spoke about the role of a particular type of private player: philanthropists. She pointed out that to successfully work with the government, their approach is to work as partners, help them understand what is lacking, and support them by filling those gaps. As opposed to publicizing the government’s failures in the media. One has to leave one’s ego behind and have patience. We have to look beyond traditional philanthropy work. Look at impact by investing along with the government, and not through separate programs. Also, while working on primary health, you need to have a 360-degree understanding, and when required, address the social issues that cause the health issues (e.g. child marriage leading to anaemia).
Mr. Sunil Thakur (Quadria Capital) brought forth the perspective of private capital investors, by highlighting the three most important factors in driving success: how the market is organized, how the pricing is done, and who pays for it. According to him, there are opportunities for private capital across the entire value chain of healthcare: products, services, technologies. One significant opportunity for generic drugs, but the question is how does one deliver it at the last-mile? That can be achieved through private investment in the service component (telemedicine, diagnosis). Other opportunities exist in educating consumers as well as human resources, water and sanitation, nutrition, mental health, etc. We need to channelize private and government resources to build a bigger financing pool and make it attractive for the private sector to step in and make products that are commercially viable. Ms. Gayatri pointed out that philanthropic funds can also step in and provide safe capital here.
Finally, Ms. Jayeeta Chowdhury (India Health Fund), moved the conversation towards equity and inclusion in primary healthcare and suggested innovative technology as a solution to bridge that gap. Innovation is not only important while screening and diagnosis, we need to look at the entire value chain, including surveillance. We have to look at both the patient side (health outcomes) and improving health systems. Capability building is important; having technology is not enough, it is equally important that it can be accepted and used by frontline healthcare providers.
Access the recording here.