The global pandemic made its way to India somewhere in January 2020 and since then, it has been more than a year for us that we have been fighting the virus. We all have been a testament to the series of challenges that were thrown at us by the miniscule virus. If we particularly talk about the healthcare sector, the onset of the pandemic made us realise how far we are in terms of meeting our healthcare requirements across the country. The divide between ‘Bharat’ and ‘India’ became much more apparent in terms of basic infrastructure. The medical infrastructure was almost on the verge of collapse, owing to the pressure that it was subjected to, considering the rising number of cases in India. Coupled with shortage of beds, medical equipment, adequate technology, there were so many other challenges which put us and our country in a difficult spot. However, it is from here that we started our true journey, the journey of ‘building back better’ for the future and look where we stand today. The Government of India, with commendable support from the corporates and civil society organisations, played an instrumental role in improving the healthcare infrastructure of the country.
In the budget announcement for the FY2O21, it was realized that the government had taken much cognizance of the situation in hand and the investments attributed to the healthcare sector was indeed praiseworthy. There was observed 137 percent increase in healthcare budget allocation this year, especially the COVID-19 specific funds. In the Union Budget, the Finance Minister of India, Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman proposed allocation of Rs 2,83,846 lakh crore for the healthcare and wellness sector. This also included Rs 35,000 crore for COVID-19 vaccines, which are being rolled out across the country since January 2021. The launch of Atmanirbhar Swastha Bharat Yojana was also announced with an outlay of Rs 64,180 crore, which is meant to be used for developing primary, secondary, and tertiary healthcare over a period of six years. The funds will be utilised for developing healthcare systems and develop institutions for the detection and cure of new and emerging diseases. These steps in the right direction highlight how we have been able to rightly navigate through the choppy waters.
It is conspicuous that our country has a sharp vision for the healthcare sector for the future. The government has been doing everything that it takes, to give increased impetus to the healthcare infrastructure of the country. However, what we need to reflect presently is on how we could make healthcare, more effective, more innovative, more accessible, and more holistic.
The answer lies right in front of us, and we just need to harp more on it.
Technology has been critical in aiding us during the most unprecedented and trying times. From a healthcare perspective, there were so many innovations that happened that we could have never thought of, had we not been enmeshed in the pandemic.
Telehealth services accelerated at a much faster pace during the global pandemic. It was seen scaling up from the single digit adoption to 77 percent across the world. It was heartening to see the transformation that it brought in the way healthcare is accessed, even without compromising on care quality and outcomes. At the same time, it was quite surprising to see that it took a pandemic followed by a national lockdown for people to accept that technology can be the best answer and how an audio-video consultation with a doctor medical practitioner in case of everyday health concerns could be as fruitful as an in-person consultation. As per the industry reports, the trend is here to stay, and the $100 billion tele-health market is expected to reach $500 billion in next five years.
Digital pharmacy services interlinked with the Internet and app technology, also served the needs of the populace during the tough times and it is continuing in most of the areas of the country. Medical stores are stepping towards digitalization to deliver orders and other services to their customers, thus, helping expand and promote effective and digital healthcare. The industry players at large are working relentlessly towards streamlining the supply-chain for Tier-II and Tier-III cities, by digitizing the local pharmacists and providing them with a wider prospective customer base. Understanding the need of the hour, the government has also launched National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) to digitize the healthcare records across the country. All these efforts are addressing the problems of the present and solving the needs of the future.
It is quite clear that technology has revolutionized the way health care is provided and received across the globe. If we really want to be at the forefront in the future, it is the time for us to invest in newer technologies, especially AI, machine learning and data analytics as the next wave of growth is expected to arise from only such technology-led business models.
Drug discovery, for instance, is a data-driven process which requires exhaustive data and information analysis. Machine learning techniques, on the other hand, are already being utilised for a variety of pharmaceutical procedures and applications. The innovative technologies have also made it possible to accomplish complex vaccine design cycles that once took months or years in a matter of seconds and minutes. This is a definite clarion call for us to be significantly aware of the impact and the benefits rendered by data and machine-driven technologies.
In a much recent report released by the Think Tank Niti Aayog, it was stated that India’s healthcare sector is expected to reach $372 billion in 2022. With such growth prospects, tech advancements such as AI, wearables, and other mobile tech, along with Internet of Things, offer numerous avenues and scopes for investment.
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