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A not so ‘sweet sixteen’?


201601ehm02If last year’s anniversary issue celebrated the rise and rise of India’s leading corporate hospital groups and profiled the next generation, this year’s focus is more somber. The Express Healthcare team brainstormed and came up with 16 areas which have seen varying pace of changes.

For instance, it was eight long years from the launch of the polio eradication programme that the WHO certified India as polio free. Other infectious diseases still plague us (no pun intended). The pulse polio campaign identified some of the bottlenecks in the public health delivery system which were systematically ironed and will no doubt accelerate the roll out of new additions to the national immunisation programme.

Similarly, we have succeeded in reducing maternal and child mortality rates. We have taken baby steps towards awareness on organ donation as well as setting up the infrastructure to transport donated organs, which is a challenge considering our congested cities. Age old ayurveda is being mainstreamed while the government is striving to increase the coverage of its subsidised medicine stores. India’s experience with polio eradication is now being used in other polio-endemic countries.

But we cannot rest on our laurels. As Amitabh Bachchan, the face of India’s Polio Eradication Campaign and now UNICEF’s ambassador for the hepatitis B campaign, put it, let’s not take another eight years to tackle other diseases like diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis and measles which are all part of the government’s child immunisation initiative, Mission Indradhanush. What will it take to achieve this target by 2020?

2015 saw two successful IPOs in the healthcare sector, with the Dr Lal PathLabs’ IPO over subscribed 33 times, and the Narayana Hrudayalaya (NH) IPO which was oversubscribed 8.63 times. Most IPOs across sectors were exit routes for private equity investors and market punters predict that 2016 will see another wave of such PE-exit led healthcare. HealthCare Global Enterprises is slated to IPO in the first quarter, Thyrocare Technologies filed its draft IPO papers on December 31, while Aster DM Healthcare is also eyeing this route.

IPOs market observers point out that the healthcare sector saw some of the highest success rates, an indication of investor interest in a segment still under-represented on the bourses.

In stark contrast, public healthcare remains neglected. Which is why, we at Express Healthcare decided to create a forum, Healthcare Sabha, which will focus on how India’s public healthcare infrastructure can be raised to the next level, with the right inputs from policy makers, both global and national of course, as well as the private sector. Do check out our newly launched website dedicated to this conclave:

Healthcare Sabha is set to be a meeting place for thought leaders in public health policy and delivery to discuss ways to make healthcare more inclusive. We believe that 2016 will see a new purpose to not just announce new health initiatives but also oversee that these initiatives actually deliver on the stated mission goals.

Of course, not all of this urgency is altruistic. If the Modi government hopes to be re-elected to a second term, it will have to show progress on its electoral promise of providing universal health assurance. Thus health policy experts are optimistic that it will be forced to get its act together in 2016.

The National Health Mission has also sent operational guidelines to state governments for the implementation of its free diagnostics services initiative as well as mobile medical units. The latter initiative is geared towards increasing accessibility, while the former is a good step towards reducing out of pocket expenditure on diagnostics.

It is not just the party at the centre that will have to perform. Healthcare finally seems to have caught the attention of political parties across the canvas. For instance, our December issue featured the plans of the Telangana government to create healthcare infrastructure in the newly formed state.

But some experts caution that we cannot expect one scheme or policy to plug all the gaps. Even universal health assurance has its naysayers, who point out that one reason why the IPOs of healthcare and diagnostics chains have done well is that the private sector is gearing up to capture a share of such government-sponsored health insurance schemes. It is obvious that such schemes will have to be outcome driven, and not service driven. Which means that service providers will have to prove benefits of the treatment recommended.

The short-term fix might be to use the expertise present in the private sector to meet the health burden on the public healthcare sector. But, the long time and tougher purpose should be to bring this expertise level to the public sector as well. Tata Memorial Hospital is one example of such a centre of excellence, and as it nears its 75th year celebrations in February, we hope it will inspire the same level of excellence in the public healthcare sector.

Viveka Roychowdhury

[email protected]

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