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Need to have viable universal health scheme in the country

There is a need to have a viable universal health scheme in the country so that every individual is in some way connected with healthcare, Manipal Health Enterprises Chairman Sudarshan Ballal said on Wednesday.

“Never in my medical career, have I seen any pandemic like COVID-19… It has made us realise how important healthcare is to the world,” he said while addressing a virtual interactive session on ”Changing expectations and outlook of healthcare in the COVID-19 world”.

In India, spending on healthcare is very less, less than 1.5 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), and this needs to change drastically, he added.

Healthcare should be a fundamental right of every citizen of this country. The importance of primary, preventive and public health cannot be overemphasised, Ballal said.

Speaking about the role of diagnostics, he said, “Unfortunately, diagnostics were not given the kind of importance that they deserved, till the COVID-19 came up.”

Ballal added that the private sector along with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and other regulatory bodies took on the challenge and quickly came up with multiple testings, both RT-PCR and rapid antigen tests.

However, care of non-COVID-19 patients should not be neglected as it can cause serious problems, he added.

On the need to increase spending on healthcare, Ballal said, “We have to increase the healthcare spend and we also need to set up more personnel being available to take care of patients with COVID-19 and other illness.”

He added that for this, training facilities have to be ramped up because it”s not just the infrastructure that money can buy but it takes a long time to bring in healthcare personnel be it nurses, paramedical workers or doctors.

Fortunately, the government and the regulatory bodies have increased the number of training centres and significantly increased the postgraduate trainees and “n the next few years, we will be in a much better position than we are in today” he added.

Speaking about the fight against COVID-19, Ballal said, “We at least in India cannot fight the COVID-19 battle alone. No disease of this magnitude can be fought either by the government or the private sector alone.”

He added that we have to work together if we have to provide adequate care to the citizens of this country and fortunately, “this is for the first time that we can see the government and the private sector work together”.

Another thing that has happened due to the COVID-19 pandemic is about the digital healthcare that was stuck in regulatory issues for years. In three days, the regulatory bodies completely changed the tables and we now have a functioning digital health system across the country, he added.

“What is really needed for us is that we need to have a viable universal health scheme so that every individual in the country is in some way connected with healthcare,” Ballal said.

Highlighting the role of diagnostics, Roche Diagnostics India MD Shravan Subramanyam said, “We have experienced the role and value of diagnostics in COVID-19 management over the past months. Be it diagnostics for therapy or screening for antibodies to plan pandemic management efforts, diagnostics has been at the gateway of healthcare management.”

While the awareness on the need for diagnostics is positively increased, it is important that testing for pre-existing illnesses and conditions are not neglected for fear of visiting hospitals and labs, he added.

“While COVID-19 management through hygiene and care is pivotal to controlling the spread of the pandemic, it is equally important that people with ailments — especially those qualifying as comorbidities — continue their testing and therapy, if possible using tele and digital interventions,” Subramanyam said.

For all others, preventive screening is key to maintaining good health especially in pandemic situations, he added. –PTI

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