Universal Health Coverage: Lessons Learnt from COVID-19
Health encompasses a variety of areas such as sanitation, nutrition and mental well-being to name a few. However, healthcare at its core is formed by the existing hospitals, hospices, nursing homes and front-line workers that have been tasked with bearing the burden of delivering care to 1.3 billion Indians.
The task of healthcare delivery becomes even more cumbersome during an unprecedented crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the years, the private sector has emerged as a prominent player in the Indian healthcare sphere, providing better salaries and greater attention to patients through tertiary and quaternary care hospitals and clinics, with state-of-the-art equipment. However, in a pandemic, the availability and affordability of care in these hospitals becomes out of reach for the masses in our country. This inadequacy in healthcare infrastructure gets further exacerbated in rural areas where the population either relies on available preventive care centres in the vicinity or incurs huge expenses in obtaining curative care in cities.
While Indian healthcare has progressed gradually & steadily, the issue of inadequacy has remained at its core. Even more than 70 years after Independence, the Indian healthcare system finds itself stretched in providing timely care to citizens in all parts of the country.
The COVID-19 outbreak in the country has put these inadequacies under a stark glare. While the Government has worked in a systemic, timely & steadfast manner to ramp up healthcare infrastructure and ensure seamless delivery of healthcare- the sheer size of India and its population makes it difficult to ensure universal health coverage.
This gap between healthcare requirements and healthcare provisions sometimes almost seems unsurmountable. Building facilities is time consuming and is likely to not keep pace with the population growth and demands. Healthcare services are groaning under pressure, and now with COVID-19, the healthcare system in India is facing an unprecedented crisis. Hence, this is the time to harness Indian ingenuity, as innovations in healthcare may hold the key to equitable healthcare delivery and to successfully combatting crises such as COVID-19.
Mobile Clinics- boosting equitable healthcare delivery
The concept of mobile clinics or diagnostic centres is a simple and easy one, yet not explored to its fullest potential. Mobile clinics in conjunction with services provided by front line workers will address the problem of timely access to medical care, especially for combating COVID. The COVID-19 testing bus is a great example of using mobile diagnostics for reaching the remotest parts of India.
Through early diagnoses and timely treatment, diseases like COVID-19 and even cancer, TB & Pneumonia are less likely to become serious thus reducing the burden on hospitals by a reduction in the number of patients needing hospitalization. Mobile clinics are also the answer to the difficulty of developing brick and mortar health facilities in hard to reach areas. This allows for flexibility within healthcare delivery. Areas with seasonal disease outbreaks would also benefit greatly with such flexibility.
Robotics- Strengthening the war against the virus
With the outbreak of COVID, the Indian healthcare ecosystem has also witnessed a surge in the use of robotics & humanoids for activities such as sanitization, maintaining patient records and even patient check-ins in a few hospitals. Thus, reducing the burden on healthcare professionals and strengthening the fight against the virus. These examples are testament to the successful integration of innovation into healthcare delivery and to harnessing Indian ingenuity for ramping up the healthcare infrastructure in the country.
As we hope for the speedy arrival of a cure for COVID-19, we must take forward the lessons learnt from this crisis. The healthcare infrastructure in India needs a strong base of innovation and government reforms to ascertain equitable delivery to the masses. While schemes such as Ayushman Bharat improve financial access to healthcare services, we need to work with a renewed focus to develop centres, hospitals & clinics that would allow the citizens to take advantage of this financial access. Integrating innovations will also remain a key theme for healthcare in the next decade. We have made many strides in improving healthcare, but concerted focus on equitable healthcare delivery, forming the crux of the upcoming policies and schemes in the next 2-3 years, would be a true testament to the vision of an ‘Self-Reliant India’!