- By Dr Naresh Purohit 

(Epidemiologist and Advisor - National Communicable Disease Control Programme )

New Delhi: In India, public health has become the subject of national discussion and terms like vaccines, genome sequencing and disease surveillance have become a part of daily conversations. There have been policy decisions such as the launch of Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission to strengthen public health laboratory and disease surveillance up to the block level and in remote areas as well. This is a good start; but more will be needed. There is a need that in 2023 and ahead, these decisions are followed through to make a difference at the ground level. Also, the government funding for health continues to remain low and it is time that the promises to increase government allocation for health are fully implemented.

Emphasis on consolidating  PHC services:

Covid-19 has once again emphasised the importance of stronger health services and that of well-functioning primary health care services. The PHC services should be built around the people, where it is not just the treatment of disease but attention is on preventive and promotive services as well. In this context, the special session of the United Nations General Assembly on Universal Health Coverage in September 2023 is an opportunity for all countries including India to recommit to strengthening primary healthcare.

Learning from the Covid pandemic: 

India should accelerate the availability of health-related data for its every state.

The pandemic has taught us that vaccination is not just for children, but many vaccines are also for adolescents and adults. Apart from Covid, a few other vaccines such as Hepatitis-B, meningococcal vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine can reduce diseases in adults. These are especially useful for select vulnerable adult populations. The year 2023 is the time the government should start to prioritise, paying special attention to vaccinating the at-risk adult population. India now has an indigenously developed and low-cost HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) vaccine, which can protect adolescent age groups from cervical cancer and other ailments. It is time this vaccine is made available through a government programme in India.

Anticipating major strides in the year 2023  to provide quality healthcare to the masses by addressing the following key areas in healthcare industry :

- 2023 is the year where the clinics would stamp their supremacy by doubling down on more point-of-care (POC) devices and widening the gap in possible offerings compared to their online counterparts and at the same time adding “at-home” services to their arsenal to bolster their convenience offerings to the customer.

- While online consultations are still said to be higher than pre-pandemic levels, with Covid receding, the physical consultation market has come back with a gusto. For now at least, the talks about the demise of the neighborhood clinic seem too premature.

- The rise in preventive check-ups is one of the structural stories coming out of the pandemic. The vulnerability of the human body was never so badly exposed. Further, thanks to the affordability and ease of access to preventive healthcare services driven mostly by the new age companies, more and more people will undergo preventive health checkups.

- Homecare services: Convenience services like home sample collection for diagnostic tests are getting more mainstream. When the entire nation was forced to rely on the humble phlebotomist to visit their homes, they realized how much easier this was then navigating the traffic to visit a lab, just to give a blood/urine sample. Offering home sample pickups will move from a “good-to-have” feature to a “must-have” for every laboratory going forward.

- Role of technology in chronic disease management: With fitness trackers and smart watches investing significant resources to be relevant for tracking vitals, it was never easier to keep track of one’s health. The increasing affordability of these trackers over the last few years have ensured they are now within the reach of vast audience. 

- Healthcare demands to be decentralized, it needs to be closest to wherever the patient is. Yet, the availability of the skilled manpower has been the biggest bottleneck in that journey.

Now with “phygital” clinics (where vitals are measured and shared with a doctor who is virtually connected), even the remote parts of the country can get access to a highly qualified doctor.Technology is what will drive access and efficiency – vital to provide quality healthcare to the masses.