To say that this year’s union budget was a disappointment for the healthcare sector is an understatement. Buoyed up by the stress on healthcare in the BJP’s election manifesto, which was followed up with various announcements like the Make in India and Swacch Bharat campaigns, as well as the draft National Health policy, the sector was positive that the budget would delegate major funds for the sector.
But it was not to be. The Finance Minister seemed to have chosen to allocate funds to other sectors and relegated healthcare a few rungs down the priority ladder. In fact there are doubts whether the Rs 33,150 crore allocated to the sector will be sufficient to fund the various national health schemes announced. (See analysis: Budget 2015: In search of an effective healthcare system, pages 26-27)
The government seems to be penalising the sector for not utilising the funds allocated to it in the previous financial year, so it is imperative that all funds allocated are utilised this financial year. This is the only way to strenghten the argument for increased allocation next year.
The government’s vision is laudable. As CK Mishra, Additional Secretary & Mission Director (NRHM), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare puts it, “The vision behind the National Health Mission is that no one in this country should be left without access to proper healthcare.” (Read his interview on page 31: ‘Everyone should have equal access to modern medical-care’)
But while these schemes look good on paper, their implementation and interpretation is a different issue. Worse, industry has the perception that the talk does not seem to be backed by action. Our cover story section in the April issue of Express Healthcare analyses a key scheme, the Make in India campaign, asking if the vision will translate into a reality or turn out to be a delusion. (Make in India or Make for India?; pages 28-30)
For sure, medical equipment companies seem to be already following the script: GE Healthcare announced the launch of the ‘first ever locally designed CT technology, Revolution ACTs, manufactured in India for India and the world.’ The company has been able to shave 40 per cent off the cost of the equipment, thanks in part to local sourcing or in-house manufacturing of 30 per cent of the product components and parts, including the heart of the machine – the generator and tubes. Targeting new users of CT in smaller towns, the product has a smaller footprint and uses less power so life cycle costs are also reduced.
Other innovations specifically designed for first time users include a clarity panel detector, which improves image resolution, along with Smart Dose technologies to lower radiation dose by up to 36 per cent while preserving high image quality as well as an easy-to-use user interface. The fact that the product has bagged five global patents for its design and engineering is the icing on the cake and proof that we can not just make but innovate in India.
GE Healthcare’s stripped down version of a fourth generation slice CT system seems to be the way to go for medical equipment, and it looks like other manufacturers too will follow this path. Philips is increasing the visibility of the’ Philips Healthcare Innovation Center at Pune with this in mind.
But as the Association for Indian Medical Device Industry (AIMED) has been pointing out, the government has to do its bit by levelling the playing field. Rajiv Nath, Forum Coordinator, AIMED points out that without a reversal and rationalisation of the current inverted duty structure and a export substitution policy, Indian medical device manufacturers remain at a huge disadvantage.
One hopes that the government takes notice of the suggestions from industry to tweak the NHM. (See some suggestions on pages 32-33: ‘Health as a justicible fundamental right’, by Amit Mookim, Country Principal, IMS Health). After all, only creative policies can foster innovation.