Oceanic Pharmachem Private Limited (OPPL) believes that a corporatized system can protect the public interest and strengthen its social responsibility by wise investment in healthcare.
The current Indian healthcare sector is not making any real progress. The government spending on healthcare is about 1.5% of the GDP, significantly lower compared to other countries. Maternal and infant mortality is unacceptably high and life expectancy is still low compared to many countries. Private hospitals provide good care but are beyond the reach of most people. Public hospitals are affordable but are overcrowded and lack responsiveness. Tertiary care has developed substantially, but primary care needs to grow significantly.
The National Health Policy 2017, approved by the Cabinet in March 2017, has an objective to achieve the highest possible level of good health and well-being, through a preventive and promotive health care orientation in all developmental policies, and to achieve universal access to quality health care services without financial hardship to anyone. The goal is to raise expenditure on healthcare in a time-bound manner to 2.5% of GDP. It aims to bring down infant mortality, increase life expectancy, recognize doctors for giving back to society, promoting AYUSH, among other things.
Expecting the government to solve all problems is just a convenient stance and there is much that companies can do to support health care as a part of their 2% mandatory spending. India’s top 200 companies spend around Rs. 1369 crores on healthcare and wellness, about 24% of the total spend on CSR. However, most spend tends to be focused on health camps and building hospitals or donating to hospitals for the upkeep of facilities. Health camps have a short-term orientation and are number driven while setting up and running hospitals are often poorly targeted.
Given the above issues, Indian companies need to find more ways to engage in CSR activities around healthcare. A few key areas where they could contribute significantly are as follows:
1. Improving primary care: There is an urgent need to focus on primary care rather than tertiary care. The local youth can be trained to advise residents on simple treatments and Pharmacies could provide medicines for common ailments and help basic diagnostics like blood pressure, pulse, and sugar testing. These will provide people with cheap and efficient health services.
2. Getting doctors to rural areas: Given that companies, already running hospitals, have access to greater resources than the government, they could provide incentives to doctors to spend time in rural/ remote areas and take healthcare where it is desperately needed.
3. Increasing the number of doctors: Due to a significant shortage of well-trained doctors, companies could subsidize medical education for bright students. They could also partner with existing medical colleges for expansion of facilities, upgrading teaching methodologies, providing access to medical literature, etc.
4. Reducing treatment cost: Due to the high cost of medical treatment, especially for the poor, companies could neutrally promote health insurance. Companies can tie-up with pharma companies to enable distribution of relatively cheaper medicines; whose costs can be driven down further, if they purchase medicines collectively.
5. Promoting traditional medicine: Companies can do a lot to support and promote alternative and traditional medicine systems under the umbrella of AYUSH, which can be an excellent ancillary to the mainstream healthcare system.
6. Follow-up on health checks: Companies invest significantly in health check-up camps. The need is to push the envelope further and track whether outcomes of health camps lead to people receiving follow-up treatment.
7. Supporting non-mainstream illnesses: Both the government and companies tend to focus on illnesses that affect the physical body. There is a greater need to focus on mental health, autism and other such conditions.
There is a lot that businesses can do to help Indians lead longer and more fulfilling lives. The right channels need to be tapped to utilize the allocation of money and the intent behind it.