Written by Amir Ullah Khan
The post pandemic era could, to say the least, finally bring healthcare to the centre-stage of public policy. Already alarmed by the challenges in tackling an invisible enemy, healthcare systems across the world are finding innovative solutions to stay ahead of the curve. It’s a fight that has brought the globe together, equipped with health technology to defeat the novel virus. As India works to strengthen its industrial base and walk the path of economic recovery, our new policies will determine how this industry will address the unmet healthcare needs of the country’s 1.35 billion. However, as the story of self-reliance unfolds, it is important to take a closer look at how we can complement the domestic industry growth with accessibility to global innovations.
Over the years, an open market has not only ensured free flow of investment but also moved India closer to global innovation. From technology in retail to consumer goods, automobile to telecom, the last century witnessed a dramatic shift in India’s consumer trends and as its access to inventions increased, so did the standard of living of people in the country. Global collaboration not only helped the country innovate and make a mark worldwide, but also provided the much-needed impetus to the industry at the domestic level. It fostered novel ways of thinking and intra-country competition helped businesses grow, turning India into a medical tourism destination. Innovations were made accessible to large sections of the common people.
An example of this transformation can be seen in the case of the biggest killer in the country. According to a Lancet study in 2018, in India, ischaemic heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of death. In 2019, the WHO reported that lower-middle income countries are home to over three-quarters of CVD-related deaths in the world. Given this situation, India’s healthcare system has leveraged global innovation to address this disease burden by bringing some of the most advanced technologies in heart-care to its people. Take, for instance, interventional heart technologies like Fractional Flow Reserve (FFR). This can now help doctors in measuring the volume of the blood flow and supply of oxygen to the distal part of the blocked artery, helping them identify the severity of a coronary artery lesion and the blood supply to the affected areas of the heart, resulting in better patient outcomes.
Today, we have remote monitoring technologies which have made data automation alerts possible from a distance. These systems have significantly reduced hospital visits, improved clinical outcomes and helped cardiologists with timely intervention, especially in case of atrial fibrillation and heart failure.
Trade partnerships have helped not only create jobs in India but also placed the country on a strong footing in its strategic alliance with other countries. India has largely benefited from global ties and vice versa. Take, for instance, the UK has invested over £22 billion, creating lakhs of jobs. That said, India is the UK’s second largest source of foreign investment. These ties matter not just for us but also future generations.
According to the latest numbers of the Union Ministry of Commerce, “India’s exports reached $13,182 million in 2019-20 (April-March) from $10 billion in 2015-16.” India is the fifth largest supplier of pharmaceuticals to Latin America.
An open and outward policy that allows innovations to reach people, while not hurting the prospects of indigenous products and not letting geography decide the kind of product people should have access to, are directions that a developing economy like India should look at. The one innovation that we are all waiting for is the COVID-19 vaccine. When it comes out, and wherever it comes out from, it will have to be administered globally and in quick time. We need to keep our borders open, our tariff structures low and our supply chains nimble to be able to take the vaccine across to at least 50 per cent of the population in quick time.
We live in a world where a global partnership matters now, more than ever as India enters a critical phase to encourage its medical device industry to be globally competitive. The medical devices market is expected to touch $50 billion by 2025 — a growth that will be driven by both imports and exports. Hence, the need for partnership is now, more than ever. India’s market potential should have players from around the world bringing the most advanced technologies to its people. These are challenging times for healthcare systems around the world and we cannot win this fight without accessible and quality healthcare, from all possible sources across the world.
The writer is an economist is professor at the MCRHRDI of the Government of Telangana.