Will Universal Health Coverage Ever See the Light of Day? Universal Healthcare Coverage is a noble idea, and every human being deserves the right to quality medical attention, regardless of their ability to pay

By Ameera Shah

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In a world of roughly 7.6 billion people, more than 3.5 billion people still do not have access to basic healthcare facilities, today. Additionally, every year, as many as 100 million people become victims of poverty, due to medical expenses being costly and unaffordable. In a situation like this, free basic healthcare for all is a need of the hour, regardless of income.

Organised by the World Health Organization, World Health Day 2018, to be celebrated on the 7th of April, aims to draw attention to this burning need for 'Universal Health Coverage', all over the globe. The platform allows world leaders to discuss, exchange ideas on, and work to solve, some of the biggest healthcare problems plaguing the world. While last year, the event had addressed the issue of depression, 2016 had been dedicated to diabetes, and both were phenomenally successful in raising awareness about these serious issues. In honour of its 70th anniversary, this year, the WHO has urged world leaders to take concrete steps towards the common goal of ensuring availability of basic healthcare for all, without any financial hardship.

Bringing About a Change

In this regard, the current government's volley of reforms in recent years has done much to make the dream of universal health coverage in India a tangible reality. Some of the most significant steps forward included the introduction of the Common Entrance Test (NEET), a new health policy that focuses on sourcing of care from the private sector, an increase in the domestic manufacturing of medical equipment, leading to increased affordability and availability, and the launch of the Digital India campaign, under which, E-Health was one of the initiatives, which has made receiving lab reports & OPD appointments quicker and simpler. However, perhaps the single most compelling development till date has been the government's drive towards investing substantial resources in medical research and development, to match the international standards of pharmaceutical companies.

One of the most ground-breaking announcements of the Union Budget 2018-2019 was the government's announcement of the National Health Protection Scheme, which will provide a health insurance cover of INR 5, 00,000 per family, in a year. The scheme will cover 10 crore vulnerable families, with approximately 50 crore beneficiaries, making it the largest healthcare programme in human history. This has ushered in an entirely new phase in India's social security, and is a step in the right direction towards universal health coverage. However, while the government's efforts on healthcare have been nothing short of excellent, there's still a lot of work to be done, particularly with regards to implementing strict protocols to deter dubious pathologists. This can only be achieved when proper quality-control regulatory bodies are set up. The glaring shortage of talent in the healthcare sector is another serious concern that the government has yet to fully address. However, its ambitious plan to introduce 24 new medical colleges in the country is certainly a good start.

Looking Ahead

Considering the current state of affairs, the future of the Indian healthcare system would benefit greatly from a sort of joint venture between the government and private players, with each focusing on its core competencies. While the private sector would spearhead innovation, research, and development, the public sector would let in subsidies to better facilitate these efforts. This system would greatly improve the Indian healthcare sector, and do much to eliminate inefficiency.

Universal Healthcare Coverage is a noble idea, and every human being deserves the right to quality medical attention, regardless of their ability to pay. While seeing it implemented on a large scale will likely take a while, it is certainly pleasing to observe that as a nation, we are now paying more attention to healthcare affordability. The big-ticket promise of 'National Health Protection Scheme', now officially termed as 'Ayushman Bharat' signals the government's intention in the right direction. Metropolis will be happy to partner with the government and other industry bodies in achieving this vision. There is truly hope that India will one day become a nation where none has to choose between financial hardship and death.

Ameera Shah

Managing Director and Promoter, Metropolis Healthcare

Ameera Shah is the Managing Director and Promoter of Metropolis Healthcare Ltd. She has revolutionized the pathology industry from being a doctor-led practice to a professional corporate group in an extremely unregulated, competitive and fragmented market.

Under her leadership, Metropolis has evolved from its single-pathology-laboratory status to a fully integrated multinational chain of 150 diagnostic centers and more than 1000 collection centers across the globe. Ms. Shah received a degree in Finance from The University of Texas at Austin and has also completed the prestigious Owner-President Management Program at Harvard Business School.

Forbes Asia listed Ameera Shah in the Asia’s Most Powerful Women, 2015, for powering the rise of Metropolis Healthcare and brining a significant shift in the diagnostics industry.

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