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World Health Day 2023 | Importance of bringing private innovations to public healthcare in India

Strengthening the mechanics of preventive healthcare is one way to reduce the financial strain on patients as well as the burden on overstretched healthcare facilities in India.

April 07, 2023 / 07:04 PM IST
Mahan Trust, an NGO in Melghat, offers tele-diagnostics through Medprime Technologies

Medprime Technologies is currently helping Mahan Trust - an NGO serving the healthcare needs of tribal communities in Melghat - leverage their digital microscopy solution to address patient accessibility to diagnostics. (Photo courtesy Mahan Trust)

India's public healthcare system is in dire need of innovation. Despite being the world's fifth-largest economy that has made significant progress over the past few decades, India still ranks 145th out of 195 countries in the healthcare access and quality index, behind countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Millions of Indians continue to face significant barriers when it comes to accessing quality and affordable healthcare, particularly those from underserved and marginalized communities.

With the doctor-to-population ratio being fairly inadequate, there is space for technology to address the healthcare needs of India. In many cases, the lack of accessible healthcare services in these communities results in patients not seeking medical attention until their conditions have become serious and require more expensive and complicated treatments. The result is an increased burden on the healthcare system and significant financial strain on their families. This accessibility to affordability gap is a major challenge that must be addressed in order to improve the overall health of the population and reduce the burden of disease on the country.

One way to address this challenge is by strengthening the mechanics of preventive healthcare. According to a 2016 study by the World Health Organization, the economic burden of tuberculosis in India was estimated at US$23.7 billion. This includes both direct medical costs as well as indirect costs such as lost productivity due to illness and death. Similarly, cancer is a major health challenge in India, with an estimated 1.5 million new cases diagnosed every year. The economic burden of cancer is also significant, with estimates suggesting that it will cost the country US$6.7 billion in lost productivity by 2025. Early detection and treatment of the disease can significantly reduce these costs and improve patient outcomes.

There are emerging tech-led innovations that focus on early detection and diagnosis of such diseases. Salcit, for example, is piloting an artificial intelligence (AI) led platform that uses an app to decode unique cough sound signatures and detect the possible presence of pulmonary tuberculosis within seconds. Similarly, Niramai's low-cost and non-invasive med-tech device uses thermal imaging to detect early signs of breast cancer in women, making it easier to treat and less expensive to manage.

Health-tech innovations can also play a huge role in addressing critical gaps in the care pathway while working with multiple stakeholders like doctors and frontline workers. For example, Intelehealth’s AI-powered telemedicine platform connects patients in rural areas with doctors and 10BedICU’s teleICU solution enables rural hospitals to remotely connect with critical care specialists across India, thus helping patients get timely support.

While such innovative solutions hold a lot of potential to address need gaps in public healthcare, they require support from multiple stakeholders. Partnerships with the government that enable the integration of such innovations into public health programs, can influence scale as well as impact. Additionally, collaboration with grassroots organizations can help create the proof points for such solutions within primary health care environments. For instance, through the ACT Implementers Network, Medprime Technologies is currently helping Mahan Trust - an NGO serving the healthcare needs of tribal communities in Melghat - leverage their digital microscopy solution to address patient accessibility to diagnostics while building evidence for the use of tele-pathology in low-resourced areas.

In conclusion, private innovations can play a significant role in bridging the accessibility to affordability gap and strengthening the public healthcare ecosystem in India. And by providing patient capital as well as advisory support in the form of mentorship and access to networks, venture philanthropy organizations can accelerate the development and scaling of innovative solutions that have the potential to transform the healthcare landscape in India.

(Full disclosure: Niramai, Intelehealth and 10BedICU are all a part of the ACT For Health portfolio - the grants were given in 2022. Salcit is co-funded by ACT For Health and India Health Fund (a Tata Trusts initiative) - the grant was announced in March 2023.)

Neetha Joy is a Director at ACT, a non-profit venture philanthropy platform, where she leads the endeavour to improve access to quality and affordable healthcare in the areas of primary care, diabetes, cancer, tuberculosis and mental health by leveraging the power of technology and innovation.
first published: Apr 7, 2023 07:04 pm