This article originally appeared on Livemint.com.
With universal healthcare, public health and sanitation flagged as core components of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s pre-election healthcare policy in 2014, the forthcoming budget should commit to building a healthcare system that meets the country’s needs. Since India is saddled with an already underperforming healthcare delivery system, announcements of intent will not suffice. Instead, the government needs to implement specific initiatives.
That the country faces a dual burden of communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is well known. NCDs are expected to cost $6.2 trillion by 2030, and will irrevocably expose the poor state of healthcare delivery across primary, secondary and tertiary care. To face this challenge, the government must prioritize two critical healthcare-delivery objectives—increase investment in healthcare delivery and shift to smarter solutions.
Grow and fund healthcare delivery
With one functional hospital bed per 1,000 people in 2012, India is well below the global benchmark. According to estimates, healthcare providers will require around two million new beds by 2025, a monumental task. Infrastructure shortages are even more acute in smaller towns and villages. In 2012, Indian metros and larger cities had four hospital beds per 1,000 people, compared with 2.5 in small towns and a national average of 1.3 beds. Large regional variances add to the challenge.
Changing demographics will add to the burden. By 2025, around 11% of the population will be over the age of 60—and most in need of care—compared with 7-8% in 2012. Since 60% of an individual’s lifetime healthcare spending occurs after the age of 65, the total cost of healthcare delivery will increase significantly.