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Giving with a purpose


20170131ep02‘He who has health, has hope; and he who has hope, has everything,’ said Thomas Carlyle, social commentator and philosopher. This observation is as true today in the 21st century as it was in Carlyle’s Victorian era. Thus anyone associated with the health sector, is not just making a pill or drawing a blood sample or performing a heart surgery. They are giving hope to the patient and family members that their products and services will cure their disease and result in a better life.

The truth of this statement is starker in India’s rural and semi urban areas. Off the beaten path, with no or poor access to medicines and doctors, the lack of a health infrastructure reduces the chances that the population of these areas will be able to lead better lives than the previous generation.

But there is hope. An analysis of corporate social responsibility (CSR) expenditure by firms in India in the December 13, 2014 edition of Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) found that education and health were the top two areas chosen by companies across industries, according to the annual reports of the top 200 firms for the year 2012-13.

Within the pharma sector, 30 per cent of CSR spend was on health, closely followed by education (28 per cent), community development/ rural development (22 per cent) and environment (20 per cent). Amendments to the Companies Act, 2013 made a two per cent spend on CSR mandatory so the figure is likely to have increased since the EPW analysis.  As the cover story in the Jan 16-31, 2017 Express Pharma issue, many pharma companies are lending ‘A Helping Hand’ through their CSR programmes, both in India and abroad. MNC pharma companies of course have a head start in this area as their parent companies have been committed to such activities for a longer time.

Of course, there is always the criticism that such programmes hide a not so altruistic motive: to garner goodwill in important segments of the population in existing markets, allow entry and access to new markets and also burnish corporate images in a world where perceptions seem to matter more than action.

The reality is that these motives and incentives ensure the long-term sustainability of these initiatives, which is ultimately also good for the populations they cover. Such market access initiatives are today part of a company’s strategic road map. The seed may have been philanthropy, but the nurturing and investment of access programmes is today more careful and considered. The fruits are definitely not confined to the population served but also to the server. As long as there is full disclosure to all stakeholders, the means would seem to justify the ends in most cases.

But expecting the private sector to foot our medical bills is not the answer to India’s public health burden. “The health of people is the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their powers as a state depend,” said former UK Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Thus it is obvious that policy makers need to build this foundation, independent but mindful of, global influence and experience. Our upcoming conference Healthcare Sabha 2017 promises to be a forum where some of the best minds in the public healthcare space will meet and debate the way forward to build the nation’s healthcare infrastructure.

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Viveka Roychowdhury

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