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Roadmap for a healthy India @100

Nickil Baswan, Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Policy, explains what all India can to do to become a global healthcare powerhouse

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Marking 75 years of Independence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation during his Independence Day speech and laid down the vision for India@100 while talking about ‘Panchprana’ – five pledges for development of India in the next 25 years. He also highlighted how the central government has identified research, innovation and technology as the key drivers of its vision for India@2047, and is making significant investments in transforming India as a nation and working towards improving the quality of life of its citizens.

India has made significant progress in the overall healthcare landscape, where the central government in the last two decades has launched various schemes like the National Health Mission (2005), National Rural Health Mission (2005), National Urban Health Mission (2013), Ayushman Bharat Programme (2018) National Digital Health Mission and Health Infrastructure Mission (2021), among others to improve the urban and rural healthcare infrastructure and further bridge the gap between the two while making primary and secondary healthcare affordable and accessible. While we chart a course ahead, it is critical to acknowledge the role that the pharma industry played during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only did the pharma sector stand as a pillar and played an instrumental role in supporting the government through seamless and effective collaboration, but it also helped to ensure ramped-up manufacturing, time-sensitive delivery of life-saving medicines to the masses through unhindered supply chain and a concrete distribution mechanism. This, along with sector-specific schemes like ‘production linked incentives’ and fastracked approvals of COVID-19 drugs and vaccines played a huge role in strengthening the healthcare infrastructure.

In light of the transitioning healthcare landscape, it becomes important to note the changing trajectory of the global pharma market which presents a significant opportunity for domestic companies. Taking India beyond ‘Pharmacy of the World’ and emerge as a global healthcare hub for innovation and end-to-end drug development, there is a need to increase investment in innovation, manufacturing and digital transformation. In order to attain these set goals, all the stakeholders will need to work cohesively on:

Favourable policy and regulatory landscape: Striving for equitable growth in a country as diverse as India with its fast-changing governmental and regulatory landscape would be impossible without a holistic healthcare delivery framework that addresses all areas of the healthcare value chain. This can only be accomplished through policies that encourage an innovation ecosystem encompassing scientific research, technology and intellectual property.

Revolutionary digital transformation: Expanding digital infrastructure throughout urban and rural areas, offering sufficient training to local health professionals, and allocating significant resources will further improve the collaborative solutions at the grassroots. According to McKinsey, the worldwide digital health business is expected to reach $515 billion by 2024. Aiming towards this figure, we should focus on a digitalised system for facilitating faster approvals while ensuring patient safety, public-private partnerships towards strengthening accessibility and continuum-of-care at grassroots

Exponential increase in investments/funding: The domestic pharma industry will benefit from an increase in the overall fund allocation for the healthcare sector, and policies that encourage R&D activities, innovation and tax relief on various drugs/therapies. Considering how the R&D costs are witnessing a significant increase due to growing complexity of development, there is an underlying need for our country to reorient its drug development model and come out with Research-Linked Incentive (RLI) schemes for the pharma sector.

Strengthening healthcare infrastructure: As per the 2022 Economic Survey, India’s public expenditure on healthcare stood at 2.1 per cent of GDP in 2021-22 against 1.8 per cent in 2020-21. While some health experts have highlighted the need to increase the public health spending to 2.5 – 3.5 per cent of GDP to support healthcare transformation, others have emphasised on the need to incorporate alternative financing models to address the financial gaps in the health sector and ensure mandatory health coverage for all to support the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) targets.

Industry-academia collaboration: Collaborations between the industry and academia will be instrumental to advancing research and knowledge, and further yield accelerated development of new breakthroughs. While the industry is known to focus on addressing solutions that are of near-term commercial value, the academia pays more heed to building long-term institutional knowledge through research and analysis

Environment, Sustainability and Governance (ESG): With the world witnessing a paradigm shift, issues related to the environment, drug quality, drug safety and resistance, will become increasingly significant. This further highlights the need to adapt a purpose-driven approach, and push for patient-centric initiatives.

To enable India to become Viksit and prepare for Amrit Kaal, so that it can drive a true healthcare revolution that other countries can emulate, the government, in collaboration with key stakeholders, must develop a framework that embraces a holistic approach and considers the interests of all groups, while keeping patient-centricity at the forefront.

This ‘revolutionary’ healthcare ecosystem must incorporate innovation and policy that focuses on equitable and inclusive economic growth, as well as access to affordable and quality healthcare in both the traditional and digital space. While a lot has been achieved in the last 75 years, there is still a long road ahead to attain India’s ambition of becoming a global healthcare powerhouse.

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