G20 Presidency: How India can shape the global agenda for health

India should use the G20 opportunity to draft a model policy focusing on primary healthcare that commits to a universal, affordable, inclusive, and a just healthcare system

Updated: Mar 23, 2023 05:17:54 PM UTC
Image: Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The G20 Presidency is of huge importance to India because the bloc comprises 85 percent of the global GDP, 78 percent of global trade, and two-thirds of the world’s population. India is the only South Asian country in the G20 and has added responsibility since many non-G20 countries look up to it to represent their interests in the bloc. Addressing healthcare issues will be a major factor in accelerating the progress of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

India’s efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic shows its potential in fighting health emergencies. It can now build on that capability to become a global leader to influence international policies on public health, epidemic control, and better access to healthcare for underprivileged and unreached populations.

Shaping global agenda

During the first meeting of the G20 Health Working Group, in January 2023, under India’s presidency in Thiruvananathapuram, health emergency prevention and preparedness were emphasised upon. In addition to that, strengthening cooperation in the pharmaceutical sector, and digital health innovation and solutions were also topics that were highlighted. India underlined that a pandemic policy must be a defining part of health policies and that preparedness, and response require diverse, multi-sectoral efforts which call for strengthening and empowering communities to become resilient to future health emergencies. Building resilient health systems and investing in lifesaving vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics as a strategy to address future health emergencies was also discussed.

As Covid-19 cases continued to remain low in India, until the recent spike in numbers, we must again leverage our key learnings and use them to bolster global healthcare. While efforts are on to plug the systemic loopholes that the pandemic highlighted, the success can potentially be a template for fighting future health emergencies.

The G20 presidency gives India a never before opportunity to shape the global agenda for health. One of the top issues on the G20 health track agenda is the prevention, preparation, and response to public health emergencies.

Multi-sectorial efforts

The G20 presidency can also help India’s pharmaceutical industry grow faster as it chases a domestic market size of $130 billion by 2030. According to a 2021 report by Kearney, in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), India’s vaccine industry can grow from $2 billion to $4-$5 billion by 2026.

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While India has the expertise, infrastructure, and investments, an enabling policy environment is needed for the country to capture a larger share in two major areas of vaccines and biosimilars in the biopharmaceuticals market, which offers a combined opportunity of $10 billion. Indian pharma companies currently contribute $500 to $600 million to the $12 billion market. These therapeutic drugs can be the next frontier for the industry after generics, and the country has the potential to carve out a 15 percent to 20 percent share of the global market. The government also believes that the Indian medical devices industry can emerge as the global leader in manufacturing and innovation in the next 25 years, and has the potential to grow at 28 percent annually to reach $50 billion by 2030. The government has acknowledged that it is time to redesign our aspiration in the pharmaceutical and medical device sector and build an ecosystem for innovation in medical devices and drugs, thereby enhancing industry-academia linkages.

National goals and global agenda

In 2018, WHO and UNICEF declared that primary healthcare (PHC) is essential for fulfilling universal health coverage (UHC) objectives. India could prepare a blueprint for a PHC-with-UHC approach for healthcare to strengthen primary-level care linked to non-medical preventive action such as food security and safety, safe water, sanitation and environment, with active participation of the entire society and government, and extend the same principles to secondary and tertiary care services. This can potentially be the most cost-effective healthcare template that the world needs.

India must use its position and leadership to negotiate better and work towards bringing health care services including medicines and vaccines for the unreached in the entire developing world. Effectively, that means that India should use the G20 presidency to draft a model policy focusing on primary healthcare that commits to a universal, affordable, inclusive and a just healthcare system.

The writer is former health secretary, Government of India.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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