Founder chairman of Apollo Hospitals, Dr PC Reddy, is quite worried about the health disaster the country is likely to face. The Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented medical crisis which has caused tremendous economic upheaval, and Dr Reddy believes the country must be mindful of the galloping growth of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) crisis which is going to be another huge health burden. According to World Economic Forum, by 2030, 80% of the deaths will be from NCDs affecting mainly the younger generation, with a cost burden of $30 trillion for the world and $4.8 trillion for India. In an interview with FE’s Sushila Ravindranath, he warns that government must take action right now. Edited excerpts:
How is Apollo dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic?
To confront the challenges posed by Covid-19, we have worked nonstop to enhance community engagement, increase awareness through our AI-backed risk assessment app. We have designated 650 critical care beds across our hospitals for Covid-19. The Apollo treatment protocols are revised weekly, based on the latest evidence published in peer-reviewed journals, WHO guidelines and national and state guidelines. As health is a state subject in India, we have been working with the government of 16 states where our hospitals are located. A Covid-19 Red Book has been created that covers every aspect of the disease: screening, admission, assessment, testing, isolation, treatment, monitoring, discharge, and follow up. All infection control protocols applicable across all areas of the hospital are included. The book is now in its sixth edition. Fever Clinics have been set up for screening in 30 locations. We are doing many other things; using the latest technologies to fight this pandemic.
You were saying that we are not paying sufficient attention to the growing threat of NCDs, that Covid-19 is taking the focus away from other major diseases. Can you explain how we are dealing with this situation?
After the lockdown, health check-ups are not taking place. We can’t perform elective surgeries. Today, necessary transplants cannot be performed. Cancer patients are not getting the attention they should. Nor are patients with heart and kidney problems. There is nobody to attend to diabetes patients unless their sugar levels are extraordinarily high.
Many patients are in a pitiable state. We cannot save everybody. However, with early detection we can help prevent NCDs killing many people. Today, heart attacks, strokes, and even cancer can be prevented with regular health check-ups and diagnosis. In the current situation, we are letting these problems get worse. We can’t ignore known threats for unknown threats.
How do we improve our healthcare system?
It is important that all of the population gets access to healthcare. Insurance models have been found to be very effective for improving access to quality care. Currently, only 4% of our population has health insurance coverage. The reason for the low penetration of health insurance is because it is currently optional. I must say that the government has taken a good step in introducing the Ayushman Bharat to cover 10 crore poor and vulnerable people.
Among other things, we have to strengthen the primary healthcare all over the country. We have had a significant success with the Total Health Programme (THP), which we started in November 2013 at Aragonda of Andhra Pradesh.
The THP aims to provide holistic healthcare for the entire community, starting from birth, through the journey into childhood, adolescence, adulthood and the later years of their lives. The programme focuses on ensuring the social determinants of health as well as an integrated primary healthcare system that reduces the disease burden.
We have to combine the strengths of public and private sector.
Hospitals and nursing homes in the private sector are near empty since the lockdown. How is the industry coping?
Revenue has dropped drastically to less than 10% in more than 20,000 nursing homes and many hospitals. Expenditure continues to be the same, as none of the organisations have retrenched manpower yet. This quarter will deal a severe blow with regard to costs as revenue would be negligible, and there are added costs due to borrowings. Healthcare recovery should receive equal or more assistance like all other sectors, as patients are being served tirelessly, 24×7 by hospitals. Apollo has some breathing space because of our credit lines. We can’t live on credit forever.
What kind of financial relief are you suggesting?
I am suggesting a grant of five-year interest-free loans for the sector which can be repaid in, say, three instalments after five years. Give zero-rating/5% GST. This has been a long-standing request from the industry. The government could also consider extending the exemptions available for the education sector to healthcare. We have several other suggestions.
Of the Rs 20 lakh crore relief package announced, at least 1/5th should have gone to public and private health sector. Given that private healthcare players are important stakeholders in the ongoing crisis, it is important that they stay financially viable and sustainable.
You have been a change agent in healthcare industry for 35 years introducing many new concepts. What is the way forward for healthcare industry now?
India can become a significant global healthcare destination. We are now clinically as good as any developed country’s healthcare system in the world. Our costs are 1/20th of what they charge in the West. Apollo now has 73 hospitals. No hospital in the world has the gamut of health services we offer. We have set up institutions to train others. For example, we set up workshops and seminars to train doctors in telemedicine.
The 21st century has opened us up to Artificial Intelligence, automation and robotics. These have had significant impact on the practise of medicine. We are keeping up with all these developments. Our Proton Centre in Chennai to treat cancer is the best and one of the first to come up in the world. People come all over the world to get treated here. The treatment is far cheaper than it is in the US which has two or three centres.
I have given recommendations to the government on multiple aspects of healthcare industry, which I believe would strengthen Indian healthcare, fuel job creation, help us to serve every Indian in need and offer hope to medical tourists.
Is anybody listening? Not yet. I hope they respond soon. – Financial Express