Union Budget 2022-23: The COVID-19 crisis experience has already highlighted the challenges faced by the healthcare sector
Although healthcare has always been an evolving field with a focus on new therapies, drugs, diagnostic techniques, preventive medicine, and constant research, it was the COVID-19 pandemic that shifted attention to our preparedness in facing a healthcare crisis.
The transformation of the healthcare industry through the pandemic has been inspirational–be it the testing scale-up, the setting up of COVID care centres, hospital infrastructure ramp-up, frontline workers’ tireless efforts, or the vaccination drive. The progress we have made in a short time has been phenomenal. The last two years have stressed the importance of building immunity and focussing on health in general.
COVID-19 also highlighted the role of diagnostics as we increased testing capacity, capability, and accessibility across the country and created awareness about its importance among the larger community. Apart from routine pathology tests, genetic testing and sequencing gained prominence with the newly emerging virus strains.
Existing infrastructure, policies
The National Health Policy of India, which came out in 2017, envisaged that India spends at least 2.5 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on the health sector by 2025. India spent 1.8 percent of its GDP on health in 2020-21; it was 1-1.5 percent in the previous years.
The Lancet Commission on diagnostics recently put forward its recommendations in October 2021 which highlighted the gap at the primary health care level. People who are poor, marginalised, young, or less educated have the least access to diagnostics and poor accessibility resulting in 50 percent of patients not getting treated for common conditions like diabetes, hypertension, HIV, hepatitis, malaria, and tuberculosis. The report emphasizes diagnostics being central to accurate identification of communicable and non-communicable diseases, to guide therapy, monitor progress, and assess response to treatment.
Budget 2020-21 takeaways
The Rs 2.23 lakh crore outlay for health and well-being in the Union Budget 2021 was aimed at strengthening a holistic healthcare approach across the preventive and curative spectrum. The focus on preventive healthcare was expected to encourage partnerships with the government, especially in tier 2 and 3 cities, to expand the reach of testing services.
The Atma Nirbhar Swasthya Yojana with Rs 64,180 crore investment over a period of six years to improve primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare, in addition to the National Health Mission and a renewed focus on urban and rural health and wellness centres were all aimed at making healthcare affordable and accessible to all.
strong>Current need and expectations
The COVID-19 crisis experience has already highlighted the challenges faced by healthcare, particularly the diagnostics sector with supply chain restrictions, manpower shortage–as healthcare workers were affected, and scale of testing. To provide personalized care, laboratories will need to integrate technology, data science, and analytics.
The National Digital Health Mission is an essential step by the Central government in the same direction that will make healthcare services more flexible, accessible, and affordable to the masses and we hope to see more emphasis in this area in the coming years.
Healthcare policies need to consider the entire value chain from prevention, diagnosis, treatment to insurance coverage to minimize the out-of-pocket costs involved. Public-private partnerships can play a very significant role. We need more support to encourage private investment in healthcare and incentives for investment in research.
A push for digital health, a thrust on genetic research, long-term investment in and prioritization of diagnostics, integrating diagnostics with surveillance systems will all aid in public health decision-making. Establishing an empowering policy environment and transparent emergency mechanisms, working in partnership with communities, industries, and health professionals to foster an environment for innovation will help give the sector the much-needed boost.
Diagnostics is the focal point for disease management. Detecting and treating early will help reduce the financial burden and improve quality of life. Every step in this direction is a welcome move for the country.
The writer is Chief Financial Officer, MedGenome.