In today’s post, Dinesh Chindarkar of GLOBALHealthPR India partner MediaMedic provides his perspective on the health sector outcomes of this month’s historic election. With more than 500 million ballots cast, it was the largest democratic election ever.
Given the current national mood that led to the spectacular victory of Mr. Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it would only be fair to say that India, and its citizens, want greater equity, quality, transparency, and choice. That is as true of their healthcare needs as it is of everything else.
In the recent past, increasing government expenditure on health (as a % of GDP) and moving towards a system based around Universal Health Coverage (UHC) made big news. While both augur well for India, it is important to realize that they are but the means to an end. For a government with a sweeping mandate, the focus must clearly be on making India a healthy nation, understanding clearly that health has a multiplier effect on the nation’s GDP. Focus on the very basics; focus on health could be a motto.
India’s health needs are paradoxical. At one end, we lose babies and mothers, lives that could be saved easily including large cases of malnutrition. On the other, our growing urban population is getting older, making unhealthy lifestyle choices, and increasing burden on non-communicable diseases (NCDs). To address both ends of the spectrum, the government has to define its role clearly.
Mr. Modi has on occasion expressed his focus on preventive healthcare – preventing disease rather than treating it. This will involve building capability across the spectrum. In the short-term, we are likely to see an increase in the number of medical and paramedical colleges to train and deploy locally, more hospitals and treatment points-of-care, and provision of financial security to access healthcare. This might either happen through targeted direct cash transfers or reforms in the insurance sector to accord affordable health security to the most under-privileged.
In the medium-term we might expect large-scale programs to address malnourishment, spread awareness of health and screening and proactive treatment of health conditions. While screening and management can be outsourced to the private sector through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), prevention and awareness activities must be spearheaded by the government. Innovative solutions can be devised to engage the private sector and other stakeholders, but it must be the government that should drive this. Mr. Modi is a believer in the catalyzing role of technology and he is likely to facilitate its infusion into the healthcare space liberally. Under his leadership the Gujarat government brought down the infant mortality rate significantly with the implementation of ‘eMamta’, a mobile mother-and-child tracking system that has registered over 480 million families.
By creating transparent and accountable systems and speeding up decision-making & implementation, Mr. Modi administered for three straight terms at the state level. This will encourage the newer government departments to shun its traditional style of working, and instead identify and implement priority actions in other sectors like trade, taxation, education, agriculture, urban development, food and pharmaceutical production and allow for substantial health gains, especially for the poor. Easing up tax, labor and infrastructure laws will ease up FDI norms and attract much needed investment into the pharmaceutical sector and kick-start the revival of India as the quality drug manufacturing hub of the world. This revival will also provide a fillip to the free medicines scheme for the poor through the public system and a transparent market-based pricing in the private system.
Mr. Modi’s passion is to transform India into a hub of innovation. He has publicly questioned why top quality medical equipment and medicines cannot be manufactured and exported from India. This vision will create more jobs, reinstate India’s position at the global table and build formidable economic prowess consequently improving diplomatic ties with the global community. This important step will facilitate transfer of much needed cutting-edge technology into R&D while helping to protect against predatory trade agreements that can potentially harm the interests of the average Indian. It can also revive the clinical trials sector globally, by reassuring transnational corporations of India’s capabilities and support, while reinforcing the need for ethics and protecting the interests of its citizens.
The new government must be judged on the basis of its ability to devise innovative solutions that will keep the nation healthy. India does not lack the ability to deliver; we also have the requisite technical experience and knowledge.
I was happy to get this personalized message on twitter, the day results were declared and was happy to note the powerful vision that it shares with the nation. Surely innovation will be the key, and I hope that the next government will usher in a period of innovative solutions across the spectrum, that can tackle some of India’s health sector challenges head-on.