Universal healthcare matter of faith for government: President

Last Updated: Wed, Jan 16, 2013 11:20 hrs

New Delhi, Jan 16 (IANS) Asserting that universal healthcare was a "matter of faith" for the government, President Pranab Mukherjee Wednesday said the country needed "out of the box" reforms to take medical services closer to people's homes.

"Provision of universal healthcare is a matter of faith for the government. The government is looking to scale up public investment on health from 1.2 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) to 2.5 percent by 2017 and 3 percent by 2022," Mukherjee said while addressing the 10th Assocham Knowledge Millennium summit.

"For this, the public health system must be greatly expanded and strengthened across the nation. We need to take health services closer to the homes of the families," he added.

"We need out of the box managerial and administrative reforms in the health departments at the state and central level. We need to develop effective models of healthcare for the ever-increasing urban population and at the same time not ignore rural healthcare needs. The foundation of India's national health system must be strong, sensitive and efficient," he said.

Mukherjee said though the challenges in the country's healthcare sector were enormous, the opportunities were equally compelling.

"For companies that view the Indian healthcare sector as a glass half full, the potential is enormous as India is one of the few locations in the world with the latest in health care technologies including automation, surgical robotics, modular operating theatres, minimal access surgery systems, telemedicine, radiology, etc," he said.

"We should take pride in the fact that heart surgeries in India cost less than a tenth of what they would in the United States," he said.

Observing that despite the government's efforts, there is no denying that healthcare delivery gap in India was huge, he said it was estimated that 64 percent of the poorest population in India become indebted every year to pay for the medical care they need.

He said 85 percent of the Indian workforce in the informal sector did not have any kind of insurance and lacked access to effective social protection schemes.

Newer technologies such as Information and Communications Technology (ICT) could play a major role in improving healthcare delivery, he said.

In this direction, he said, one solution was telemedicine -- the remote diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of patients via video-conferencing or the internet.

The president said advances were underway on several fronts, including expanding health insurance coverage for the poor and building hospitals in smaller towns, using technology for safer drinking water and improving treatment outcomes.

India is home to 16.5 percent of the world's population and at any point of time, it is estimated that there are over two million people with incurable and other chronic diseases, he said.

The president said a majority of Indian patients had late-stage incurable diseases (75 percent to 80 percent) when first diagnosed.

In recent years, cancer killed approximately 556,000 people in India. This is predicted to rise to nearly 1.5 million deaths annually by 2030, he said.

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