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A seat at the table: Shaping the healthcare policy landscape

While trade agreements with Australia, the UK, Canada and Bangladesh are nearing completion, and discussions with the EU and Israel are ongoing, many experts see the India-Mauritius CECPA and India-UAE CEPA as a good place to start in terms of increasing the integration of domestic manufacturers with global supply chains. Nickil Baswan, Vice President and Head, Corporate Affairs and Policy, Cipla, explains more….

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The COVID-19 catastrophe became a global nightmare in 2020, pushing the healthcare infrastructure near collapse, and taking the governments and economies across the world by surprise. It was something the world had never seen before, causing major supply chain disruptions, making it one of the most challenging health crises of our times. The pandemic not only highlighted the need for a future-ready model, but also provided an impetus to the Indian healthcare landscape by working towards PM Modi’s vision of making India Aatmanirbhar.

For the first time, the world saw fast-tracked emergency approvals being given to life-saving drugs, regulatory approvals to vaccines, with equal emphasis on clinical trials. It would not be wrong to say that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the future of medicine and vaccine-making while ensuring a consistent supply of medicines to help battle COVID-19. What becomes crucial to note is how the companies were able to manufacture these drugs and vaccines swiftly because of years of past research, efficient ways to manufacture, funding that allowed firms to run multiple trials in parallel, and regulators moving more quickly than normal, therefore, helping contain the spread of COVID-19.

As India pushes for Free Trade Agreements and trade concessions with major economies in order to provide more opportunities for global collaboration, put a permanent safeguard mechanism, and increase exports, one must consider how it may help the country shed its inward-looking – ‘protectionist’ image and help chase an ambitious export target of $450-500 billion by 2023. While trade agreements with Australia, the UK, Canada and Bangladesh are nearing completion, and discussions with the EU and Israel are ongoing, many experts see the India-Mauritius CECPA and India-UAE CEPA as a good place to start in terms of increasing the integration of domestic manufacturers with global supply chains.

Considering the multi-stakeholder engagement route to help expedite these quick approvals/authorisations and share recommendations, one cannot overlook the role of public affairs in the entire process, the kind that brought the government and industry to work in tandem with each other. Here’s examining how the public affairs function works behind the scenes.

Consistently monitoring the healthcare landscape

During the COVID-19 crisis, when India imposed stringent lockdowns, public affairs function was tasked with bridging the gap between the government and industry (both internal and external) by assisting in the analysis of the ever-changing health landscape, economy and political trends. The public affairs function not only monitored the health landscape, acquired insights and submitted multiple representations utilising the industry associations as a voice, but also assisted in breaking down complicated government adviseries/orders, arranging permissions and e-passes, while ensuring business continuity.

Building trust by promoting transparency

While firms are increasingly pushing for a two-way communication channel, it is critical to understand how industry openness enabled regulators and governments in making evidence-based choices. It is also critical for the pharma industry to share updated and accurate data with the general public. This would contribute to increased trust in the sector.

Encouraging multi-stakeholder dialogue

The public affairs function engaged in thoughtful communication and deliberative dialogue among key stakeholders and actively participated in private-public stakeholder consultations. This dialogue exchange becomes more important, considering the innovation, research and technological change over a period of time.

Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model

The Public-Private Partnerships are more than just privatisation, and help bring in resources the government needs to make healthcare accessible and affordable, as well as create a sustainable long-term model. The PPP model can help shape the Indian healthcare landscape in the following ways:

  • Provide expertise in building/running organisations, crucial in revamping medical facilities
  • Bring in financial assistance that can benefit the public
  • Make quality healthcare affordable and accessible
  • Accelerate universal healthcare access by strengthening the healthcare infrastructure
  • Use of new-age innovative technology/digitisation to increase efficiency

While the COVID-19 pandemic has shown gaps in the health ecosystem, it has also encouraged us to develop a strategic plan for the future. This can already be observed with the growth in healthcare spending, as well as the newer and revamped policies introduced by the government, which takes into account the recommendations made by the pharma sector. Policies that address the challenges in Research & Development (R&D), APIs manufacturing, exports are a few examples to make note of.

Now that the domestic pharma industry plans to expand and consolidate its global footprint, the transition has to be made from ‘Make in India’ to ‘Discover, Innovate and Make in/for India’ – be it focus on API manufacturing to reduce the reliance on imports, promotion of innovation by emphasising on the R&D ecosystem, academia-industry collaboration, smooth regulatory interventions, improved ease of doing business policies, or conversations around Free Trade Agreements. The public affairs function will continue to help bridge the gap between the industry and government by advocating for consistent and transparent dialogues among all the relevant stakeholders to achieve universal access. However, this can only be accomplished with support from the government in the form of funding, policy support and regulatory interventions, all of which are necessary to fuel innovation-led growth.

ICRA has estimated a growth rate of 9-11 per cent for the domestic pharma industry in the FY 21-22 mainly due to emerging markets. To further encourage a culture of R&D and innovation to enable quick drug discovery and development to enhance health outcomes globally in 2022-23, a comprehensive policy that permits the pharma industry to help fix the gaps that stressed the healthcare infrastructure is required. The way forward for the pharma sector would be to encourage FDI inflow, facilitate ease of doing business, provide a stable pricing and regulatory environment, tax breaks that encourage the pharma industry’s transformation, and a reduction in GST rates on pharma products.

Although the launch of the PLI 2.0 scheme and the Bulk Drug and Medical Devices Park are in accordance with the government’s aim of making India ‘Aatmanirbhar,’ we must continue to advocate for higher healthcare spending to meet expert recommendations of 2.5 to three per cent of GDP. Simultaneously, the public affairs function can continue to help expedite the impact by facilitating greater collaboration between the government and industry, as well as work towards India’s vision for a sustained innovation ecosystem, making it self-sufficient and rise up the domestic and global pharma value chain.

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