Universal Healthcare: Experts underpin challenges & call for strengthening of Tier II, III & rural ecosystem

Accessibility, quality, affordability, and shortage of health professionals and equipment are the main barriers that need to be addressed with collective efforts

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New Delhi: India has set an ambitious goal of achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030, as part of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda. This is a crucial step towards realizing its vision of becoming a developed country by 2047, or India@100.
A healthy India would be a powerful catalyst for achieving this goal. On the occasion of World Health Day (April 7), healthcare leaders and experts, while underpinning the challenges, called for affordable and quality healthcare services for all. They emphasized that the goal of Universal Health Coverage can be achieved by strengthening Tier II, III, and Rural health ecosystems. A new healthcare ecosystem needs to be evolved to achieve the target of 2030.
By 2030, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) alone would cost us several trillion dollars. This, along with the ongoing threat of communicable diseases such as COVID-19 and Influenza, needs our urgent attention on both preventive and curative healthcare systems.
Underpinning the pivotal role of the private sector, Alok Khanna, Head of Sales & Marketing at Medanta Hospital Lucknow, said, “The private sector has already proved itself as a game-changer in providing quality healthcare to people, significantly reducing the burden on public health institutions. Now, it can also play a crucial role in achieving Universal Health Coverage. With the private sector’s support, India can overcome the challenges it faces and pave the way toward a healthier and more prosperous future.”
Accessibility, quality, affordability, and shortage of health professionals and equipment are the main barriers that need to be addressed with collective efforts. poor monitoring, and lack of community participation. The vast and diverse geographical locations of India inhibit proper penetration of health care delivery in such areas. Further, healthcare professionals are reluctant to work in the block or below-level areas, as they have to face many challenges.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), UHC includes access to essential health services such as preventive, promotive, curative, and rehabilitative services, as well as access to safe, effective, and affordable medicines and vaccines.  “Access to quality healthcare services is a fundamental human right. However, many people around the world are denied this right due to various factors, such as lack of finances, inadequate health infrastructure, and poor service delivery. UHC seeks to address these issues by ensuring that everyone has access to essential health services without experiencing financial hardships. This is critical in achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs). Improving health outcomes has a multiplier effect on poverty eradication, economic growth, and social development,” said Sugandh Ahluwalia, Chief Strategy Officer, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre.
India needs to act fast and overcome the many challenges that lie ahead, as there is much to do in the next seven years to achieve this goal. Recently, Rajasthan’s healthcare services went for a toss with strikes and protests by doctors from private as well as public sectors as the state government’s good intention to introduce the ‘Right to Health’ Bill without wider consultation defied the main principle of cohesive collaboration. The bill states that every resident of the state will have the right to emergency treatment and care “without prepayment” at any “public health institution, health care establishment and designated health care centers.”
“It took 16 days to partially resolve the issue. The ‘Right to Health’ can act as a powerful catalyst in achieving the universal health coverage goal, but without wider consultations and consensus with private providers, such regulations cannot be considered rational. The private sector’s contribution to healthcare delivery is nearly 80 percent.  The cost of operations for private providers including salaries of highly experienced doctors is too high. If they do not match their expectation, we create another barrier with talented health professionals shifting overseas.  We need rational regulations and a robust policy framework to achieve the target,” said Baldev Raj, Managing Director of Prius Healthcare.
“Although the weaker section has been covered through Health Insurance Schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojna (PMJAY) and other schemes introduced by state governments, achieving better results would require mandatory health insurance coverage for all citizens. We need to collectively create a comprehensive and sustainable healthcare system. And for this radical reforms are required, with the state governments playing a crucial role.,” added Raj.
In terms of adequate infrastructure, access, affordability, and availability of medical professionals including doctors, healthcare leaders pointed out that smaller towns and rural India continue to struggle. Due to high out-of-pocket expenses, people face poverty as they incur huge expenses while getting treatments for life-threatening chronic diseases.
Experts emphasized that both affordability and accessibility challenges are being addressed efficiently with a holistic approach.  With barriers removed, India can easily aim to achieve Universal Health Coverage soon.