Covid cases have dropped to historic lows, and restrictions have been lifted in most parts of the country. As we celebrate World Health Day, there should be more focus on providing affordable and accessible healthcare to all sections of society. The Covid-19 pandemic clearly demonstrated how people in rural and semi-urban areas were unable to receive the best healthcare. During the first and second waves of the coronavirus, people in small towns and semi-urban areas had to pay more for healthcare than those in big cities. This clearly demonstrates the urgent need to address the dire state of rural healthcare.
Here are four ideas for making healthcare more accessible to the general public.
Increasing the budget for healthcare
Only by investing more in healthcare will we be able to provide affordable and accessible care. The demand to raise the healthcare budget to 3 per cent of GDP is growing. Healthcare currently accounts for 1.15 per cent of GDP, which explains why rural and remote areas lack basic medical facilities. Increased spending will aid in the provision of new facilities as well as the upgrading of existing ones.
In order to make healthcare more accessible to remote and rural areas, digitization is the way to go. "Teleconsultations increased by around 500 percent during the peak of Covid 19. People were seeking advice from doctors virtually not only for physical issues but also for mental ones. Teleconsultations allowed people to get healthcare without having to go to a hospital. It also relieved the strain on hospitals, which were dealing with an escalating number of Covid patients at the time. There was also a surge in health apps and e-pharmacies during Covid-19. Rapid digitization of healthcare services following Covid will enable the healthcare sector to reach even the most remote parts of the country," says Dr Aashish Chaudhry, Managing Director, Aakash Healthcare.
The Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, National Tele Mental Health Programme, etc. are a significant step forward in India's efforts to develop a comprehensive digital health infrastructure. As part of the mission, every citizen will receive a digital health ID, which will connect hospitals' digital health solutions across the country. More initiatives like these are needed across the country to enable the digital transformation of healthcare.
Even though the government is doing a lot, it is still not enough to ensure that a large portion of the population has access to healthcare, according to Sugandh Ahluwalia, Chief Strategy Officer, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre.
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She suggests, "To close the gap, private healthcare providers in Tier II, III, and remote areas should be encouraged to provide super-specialty services. To promote health programmes and raise awareness about them, more public-private partnerships should be formed. The affordability and accessibility of the best healthcare services will improve as more private hospitals open in semi-urban areas. Furthermore, even if private sector hospitals do not exist in small towns or rural areas, they should participate in CSR health initiatives to help people who cannot afford to travel to larger cities. More free diagnostic and awareness camps should be held in villages once a month to help people understand the causes, symptoms, and treatments for various life-threatening diseases such as cancer and hypertension. "
There are a slew of new government programmes available now for both urban and rural residents. However, only a small percentage of the population is aware of these programmes. As a result, widespread public awareness campaigns are essential.
"The social stigma of childlessness still leads to isolation and abandonment for many couples. Reproductive health education and prevention of infertility along with accessible diagnostic procedures and new reproductive technologies (ART) remains to be the number one priority in our country. The success and sustainability of ART in resource-poor settings will depend to a large extent on availability, affordability and effectiveness," says Dr. Gauri Agarwal, Co-Founder, and Director of Seeds of Innocence.
According to the Indian Society of Assisted Reproduction, Infertility currency affects about 10-14 percent of the Indian population. Nearly 26.5 million couples actively trying to conceive suffer from Infertility.
"Accessible infertility treatment can only be successfully introduced in the remotest of areas if socio-cultural and economic prerequisites are fulfilled. We have to liaise with the relevant authorities to discuss the strengthening of infertility services, at the core of which lies the integration of infertility, contraceptive and maternal health services within public health care structures in tier II and III cities" adds Dr. Agarwal,
The Way Forward
Covid brought the flaws in our healthcare infrastructure to the forefront. As we prepare for more coronavirus outbreaks, it's critical that we keep the focus on affordability. Making healthcare services more affordable will make them more accessible, allowing all members of society to benefit.