India needs novel healthcare innovations to drive wellness in India's hinterlands

The access to healthcare issue in India’s hinterlands needs due attention as it is home to over 64 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion population. Innovative approaches, especially tech-led, can play a big role in augmenting a shift from illness to wellness

Umang Vohra
Updated: Feb 15, 2023 01:15:42 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

A significant highlight of the new world post-Covid has been the phenomenal shift in people’s consciousness of their health and lifestyle choices. An Ernst & Young report indicated that around 94 percent of Indians are worried about their family’s health, in contrast to 82 percent globally. And while we, as a community, are increasingly leaning toward adopting a more proactive approach to managing our health, there is still a large disparity between urban and rural India in terms of accessibility to healthcare infrastructure and resources. The access issue in India’s hinterlands needs due attention as it is home to over 64 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion population. To promote good health in rural India, we must understand the situation better and concurrently arrive at a viable solution.

1) Understanding rural India’s healthcare challenges

India’s hinterlands have limited access to healthcare infrastructure and resources. People living in these regions have access to basic primary healthcare facilities at best. And given the general lack of awareness regarding healthcare, most seek medical intervention only once they have contracted an illness or are at an advanced stage of it. If redirected by the doctor to undertake certain preventive measures, or tests to further investigate their illness or to seek further treatment from a hospital, oftentimes, they drop off from the recommended course. This is largely due to the expenses they would have to incur, coupled with their unscientific beliefs, poor understanding of healthcare and access to medical resources. This results in a poor quality of life or even death in cases that could have been prevented, treated, or managed. Therefore, the only sustainable way forward is to look at how we can enable easy, affordable and effective solutions across the healthcare continuum in rural India to equip people to follow through where their health is concerned.

2) Equipping people with innovative solutions across the healthcare spectrum

Innovative approaches, especially tech-led, can play a big role in augmenting a shift from illness to wellness in India’s hinterlands by solving gaps that exist at various points across the healthcare spectrum.

Let’s start with awareness. Most people living in tier 2 to tier 6 towns are not adequately equipped with knowledge of illnesses in general. They rely heavily on information that is circulated through word of mouth and social networking apps, which are often hearsay and not fact-based. On-ground audio-visual awareness drives, access to toll-free helpline numbers and leveraging social networking apps with the use of local languages, and health experts from the community to disseminate accurate information, can be extremely effective in helping people understand likely threats to their health and how they can take precautionary measures against it.

Secondly, if we look at diagnosis, technology has the power to enable widespread, easy, and accurate diagnosis. Take, for instance, the development of a portable wireless spirometer with good battery backup that makes it suitable for outdoor camps to accurately diagnose Obstructive Airways Disease in India. The scope of such solutions to aid in the early detection of chronic diseases—even in remote areas with power shortages—is considerable to act fast in terms of treatment or management. Diagnostic solutions today can also enable report generation in real-time that can be easily shared over the phone with a doctor located elsewhere, thereby making access to healthcare location agnostic.

Such solutions not only unlock the ability to bring about the correct and easy diagnosis but makes it accessible to large swathes of the population.

3) Increasing access to therapies through collaborative action

A favourable climate that encourages the research and development of new and advanced treatments for both widespread and rare diseases will help India become more self-reliant in promptly addressing the healthcare threats that face its population. Secondly, efforts must be made to further the spirit of collaboration, such as leveraging the innovative strengths and manufacturing capacities of some players and the massive distribution network of others, along with adequate government backing to make the latest therapies available in India at scale to rural areas as well. This approach worked phenomenally in bringing about equitable access to vaccines and treatments at scale during the time of Covid-19.

Also Read: The road ahead for the evolving healthcare models for rural India

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is a novel, cutting-edge treatment for certain types of cancer and has shown the most promising results in terms of being a safe yet effective therapy, according to researchers. Lowering the cost of such therapies will help make them more accessible to those who cannot afford them. Government subsidies or insurance coverage for such advanced treatments can help in this regard.

Ambitious initiatives like the government of India’s Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Centres (AB-HWCs), are also promising in terms of providing comprehensive need-based healthcare services covering maternal and child health services and non-communicable diseases, including free essential drugs, diagnostics and teleconsultation services, to all citizens of the country.

Lastly, while innovation is increasingly being looked at from the lens of technological solutions these days, I firmly believe that sometimes all it could take are simple and novel approaches to healthcare or ways of working together as various stakeholders to make good health and well-being a reality across the length and breadth of the country.

The author is MD and Global CEO of Cipla.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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