Public good or publicity stunt?

By: |
August 08, 2016 12:01 PM

One man's medicine is another man's poison

201608ehm04One man’s medicine is another man’s poison. Or in the case of Kerala’s ‘fat tax’ of 14.5 per cent on pizzas, burgers etc., the state government’s concern over having the second most obese individuals among all Indian states, was booed as a publicity stunt by political rivals.

Industry groups are concerned that other governments would be pressurised to follow suit, and tax not only fat, but also sugar (colas etc). For instance, CII has urged the Kerala government to review the levy of this tax as it would adversely affect growth of the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) segment of the food industry and might set a similar trend for other segments, as well.

But it does seem odd that the tax is being levied selectively, with oily traditional snacks like samosas, bhajias and the like being kept out of the purview simply because they are not branded. The long term answer to curb the obesity epidemic is not taxes, which are punitive in nature, but educating and incentivising consumers to change their habits. But, this needs policy changes and everyone knows that this moves at glacial speeds, not just in India but across the world.

Policy changes may seem like a daunting task but many industry experts and think tanks have suggested road maps for consideration. For instance, The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD) had introduced a National Blueprint – SANKALP, for the management of NCDs in India that emphasised several specific recommendations that are aligned with recent initiatives like Kerala’s so called fat tax. A cursory look at some of the recommendations suggest good starting points. Some steps are already in motion like instilling ‘healthy living’ by incentivising healthy habits through voluntary exercise or yoga. We could say awareness levels about yoga have increased with a separate AYUSH ministry. Similarly some state governments have tried to ban alcohol, bracing for a fall in liquor sales revenues.

But other suggestions are tougher. Like encouraging healthy eating by providing healthier options at subsidised or affordable pricing in all school, college and university canteens as an alternate to unhealthy food and beverages, banning alcohol and cigarette shops within a two km radius of all schools and colleges across the country and building more parks and jogging tracks. Policy makers will have to choose a fine balance between investing in the health of future citizens by forgoing revenues from alcohol and cigarette sales, or antagonising some business sectors.

The Health Ministry’s notification to add heart stents to the 2015 National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) is another example of the divergent perspectives within the healthcare sector in India. On one hand, consumer groups and domestic medical device manufacturers, represented by the Association of Indian Medical Devices industry (AIMED) gave the move a thumbs up while the opposite camp, represented by Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed) and CII warned that price controls would disincentivise manufacturers from bring new technologies to the Indian market.

But everyone is unanimous that hospitals in India can no longer avoid social media and indeed need to follow the patient/ consumer and be more social. The cover story in Express Healthcare’s
August issue, titled, Tune in to Chatter, examines the strategies of some pioneering social media moves by healthcare chains and medtech companies in India. Just as another story in the radiology section, gives radiologists and diagnostics players some ideas on, ‘What your women patients want?’ The key takeaway from both stories is that healthcare organisations will have to add many more arrows to their quiver, if they want to get closer to their patients.

The impact of such policy changes is going to be a key theme at Healthcare Senate 2016, scheduled for September 22-24, which promises to bring together the who’s who of healthcare leadership. In the tradition of the ancient Roman republic and empire, where a Senate consisted of ‘an assembly or council of citizens having the highest deliberative functions in a government’, our Healthcare Senators are leaders who have or are destined to change the course of healthcare delivery, not just in India but the world. From here, will flow the wisdom of past gurus, to their present day counterparts and into the minds of the aspiring next rung of leaders. The August issue features messages from some of our key speakers but to register and for more information, log on to See you in September in Hyderabad!

Viveka Roychowdhury

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