World Health Day is observed annually on April 7th to commemorate the establishment of the World Health Organization (WHO). Each year, this day highlights various aspects crucial to the health and well-being of humanity. The theme for this year's World Health Day is "Health for All," acknowledging the diverse healthcare needs of individuals and communities worldwide. This theme recognises different public health initiatives and global progress in providing healthcare to the most vulnerable and underprivileged members of society. The healthcare sector has experienced substantial expansion worldwide, with the industry's value increasing from $ 8.5 trillion in 2018 to $ 12 trillion in 2022. India’s overall healthcare industry is estimated to be around $ 372 billion in 2022, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22 percent.
Given the vast size and population of India, the Indian government places significant emphasis on public health. In the Union Budget 2023-24, the government has allocated INR 88,956 cr towards health expenditure, an increase of 2.71 percent over last year. A major focus in India’s public health strategy has been controlling and eradicating fatal outcomes of tuberculosis (TB), in line with WHO’s ‘End TB Strategy.’ WHO has set an agenda to reduce TB deaths by 90 percent and cut new cases by 80 percent between 2015 and 2030. The global TB incidence rate decreased by around 9 percent between 2015 and 2019. India likewise recorded a 24 percent decline in TB incidences from 2015 to 2019 due to increased efforts to fight the disease. The Revised National TB Control Program (RNTCP) is a crucial strategy implemented by the Indian government to combat tuberculosis. The program offers cost-free diagnostic and treatment services for all forms of TB, including drug-resistant strains, and has extended its coverage to encompass the entire nation. Additionally, it has introduced innovative approaches like door-to-door screening, utilization of mobile healthcare units, and partnerships with private healthcare providers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disruptive impact on TB services, causing many patients to avoid healthcare facilities due to fear of infection or inaccessibility. However, advancements in digitally enabled healthcare such as the utilization of artificial intelligence (AI) and telemedicine have helped to address this challenge, with global investments in digital healthcare doubling to nearly $ 57 billion in 2021. The pandemic has highlighted the need for effectively delivering medical care in lower-acuity settings, including at home and primary health clinics, due to intermittent issues with global supply chains and hospitals reaching capacity. India's healthtech industry has also grown tremendously, following global trends and outpacing nearly all segments of the Indian healthcare sector, with a remarkable CAGR of 39 percent. It is projected to reach $ 50 billion by 2047.
One of India’s major challenges has been delivering healthcare to remote areas and ensuring ‘last mile coverage’. Government investment in initiatives such as Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) has significantly overcome this challenge by delivering healthcare through telemedicine to those who are either located in very remote areas or are unable to travel due to their age or prognosis. ABDM was rolled out nationally in 2022 under the National Health Authority with an allocation of INR 1600 cr for five years. ABDM’s Budget 2023-24 allocation was INR 341.02 cr, a 70.51 percent increase from the previous year.
ABDM enables users to create an Ayushman Bharat Health account (ABHA), allowing them to link their health records and access essential government-provided healthcare services. It also provides information on government healthcare insurance, schemes, and other benefits. In just one year, ABDM has already seen 100 million patients linking their health records to the network. ABDM offers several digital health services, including e-Sanjeevani, a telemedicine service that connects patients to doctors and medical specialists through their smartphones. Patients can also use e-Sanjeevani to access information on medical services at their nearest Ayushman Bharat Health & Wellness Centre and book appointments directly. Additionally, ABDM provides a ‘Scan and Share’ service that enables patients to register instantly at the OPD (Outpatient Department) blocks of participating hospitals. Since its inception, this service has attracted 1 million patients, with 500,000 registering in February 2023 alone.
In addition to digital infrastructure, the development of technologically-enabled medical devices, known as 'medtech,' has been supported by both private sector stakeholders and the government in India. The medtech market in India was estimated to be around $ 11 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $ 50 billion by 2025, with a CAGR of 28 percent. Medical equipment, life sciences, and in-vitro diagnostic technology make up the majority of the medtech sector, with imports accounting for 80 percent of the market. Consequently, domestic manufacturing of medical devices is highly lucrative for investors. The Indian government allows up to 100 FDI under the automatic route in the manufacture of medical devices and has announced the establishment of dedicated 'Medical Device Parks' in the country. Over the last few years, several medtech start-ups, including Ykrita Life Sciences, Endimension, Axio Biosolutions, Healthium Medtech, and Scanray Technologies, which employ disruptive technologies, have received substantial investments.
The Indian government has made significant efforts to provide universal healthcare coverage and insurance to its citizens through Ayushman Bharat - Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY), in addition to the growth of various healthcare industry segments. The AB-PMJAY scheme is expected to benefit up to 500 million beneficiaries, with each family receiving up to INR 5 lakhs per year to cover hospitalization expenses, as well as cashless and paperless services. This scheme helps reduce the financial burden on vulnerable families and mitigates the risk of severe health emergencies. It is considered the world's largest government-funded healthcare program and was allocated INR 7200 crore in the India Budget 2023-24.
Furthermore, the Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission (PM-ABHIM) initiative launched in 2021 complements the government's health coverage under AB-PMJAY by supporting the development of critical healthcare infrastructure, such as critical care centres, hospital blocks, regional centres of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), and Metropolitan Surveillance Units (MSUs). The initiative provides support to over 17,000 rural and 11,000 urban health and wellness centres. Due to the government's investments in expanding health coverage, the patient-to-doctor ratio in India has improved to 1:854 by 2022, which is significantly better than the WHO recommendation of a 1:1000 ratio.
Through joint efforts of the government and healthcare industry, India has emerged as a leading medical tourism hub worldwide. In 2020-21, India secured the 10th position on the Medical Tourism Index (MTI) among 46 global destinations. India's rich history of ancient medical practices such as Ayurveda and Yoga have also contributed to the growth of the medical tourism industry. However, several factors are driving the recent growth of medical tourism in India. One such factor is the significantly lower cost of medical treatments in India compared to developed countries like the USA and UK. For example, heart bypass surgery costs around $ 120,000 in the US, while in India, it is available for less than $ 10,000. Moreover, the availability of skilled and experienced medical professionals and modern technology has made India a preferred choice for medical tourists. Additionally, the Indian government has streamlined travel and visa facilities, making it hassle-free for medical tourists to visit India. To support this, the government has established an exclusive e-medical visa for patients from 46 countries seeking medical treatment in India.
It is important to acknowledge that India's healthcare successes are greatly aided by its robust pharmaceutical sector. India is commonly referred to as the "pharmacy of the world" due to being the largest producer and exporter of generic medicines, with a turnover of $ 42 billion. This has allowed for affordable healthcare access for a large proportion of the global population, with Indian vaccines catering to two-thirds of the world's children. India is making dedicated efforts towards achieving universal healthcare by 2030, demonstrating its commitment towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Through its exemplary healthcare system, India provides a shining example of how to achieve "Health for All," serving as a model for nations around the world to emulate.