I wanted to find a way to channel two personal passions – innovation and healthcare – in a way that would help underserved families in India and other developing countries, says Sunil Wadhwani, Founding Donor, WISH Foundation and Co-Founder and Ex-Chairman of IGATE Corporation, in conversation with Elets News Network (ENN)
On Making Healthcare Accessible
For much of India’s over 900 million Base of Pyramid (BoP) populations, living on or below the poverty line, basic healthcare is beyond their means. The public healthcare system has not been able to keep up, leaving little choice but to access costly private healthcare, pushing people deeper in to poverty.
To address this, the government is drawing up its future healthcare plans under the broad principles of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Innovations e.g. product – based, process or technological, can play a very critical role in making this possible, as can public private partnerships (PPPs).
To support the government initiative, the Wadhwani initiative for Sustainable Healthcare or WISH Foundation is working towards scaling up innovations to build an equitable healthcare system, making quality healthcare accessible to the underserved population in priority states.
WISH Foundation and Department of Medical Health and Family Welfare, Government of Rajasthan through Memorandum of Understanding are implementing a five year project called SCALE Rajasthan. The project scales up healthcare innovations and brings in greater engagement between public and private sector to strengthen the primary healthcare and improve access to quality and affordable healthcare. The project responds to the healthcare challenges of shortages of human resources and functionality of the health facilities; geographical distances, gender imbalances and nutritional status of the poor and overall low health seeking behavior of the people in the state.
On Making Healthcare Affordable
Talking about devices, for instance, our pathology tests cost a thousand and more in serious cases. Rural underserved population group cannot afford that much of costs and might have to travel long distances could be as much as 50 km to reach the diagnostic labs, which would in turn increase their out of pocket expenses. They may also avoid visiting the labs unless and until it is a matter of death and life to them.
Nowadays, there are lots of social enterprises which have come up with innovative devices. An average glucometer cost around Rs2,500 and each strip cost Rs25, now how many people can afford this in our country? These companies have come up with glucometer, which don’t cost more than Rs500 and each strips cost Rs5. This is so affordable that can be given to ASHA worker when she is visiting for checking pregnant women and adolescence girls. Any pregnant women whose blood glucose is high can be categorised in the critical pregnancy case. Similarly, in our country anaemia is a major issue leading to high maternal mortality and infant mortality is due to malnutrition. So anaemia screener has come out and the cost per test is no more than Rs3. An ASHA worker or an A.N.M can carry it along with her it’s like a cell phone it’s a non-invasive procedure where the device scans the blood vessels and within a few seconds your haemoglobin noted.
We have partnered with Government of Rajasthan to demonstrate the impact of low cost innovations and PPPs to improve primary healthcare delivery
The device is IT enabled and results can be transmitted directly to the doctor and if the haemoglobin is less than seven and she is a pregnant woman immediately they can inform the ASHA worker or the ANM it is a critical pregnancy to put them through red channel. The early diagnosis becomes easier and cost effective, also this increases the chances of delivering a normal child grows by almost three to four times. Similarly, there is a urine analyser again portable IT enable device can do 10 to 12 tests and costs about Rs3 per test. WISH Foundation is creating a pipeline of these and many more innovations, which can help reach people at their doorsteps and reduce their expenditure on healthcare.
On PPPs to improve primary healthcare delivery
By 2019, SCALE Rajasthan will bring on board collective strengths of the public and private sector institutions. The consortium comprising of government, private sector, technical and civil society organizations and social enterprises will bring skills and expertise at three levels: management and overall coordination, service delivery and technical expertise in the RMNCH+A strategy.
We have partnership with various organisations such as World Bank, USAID, Sankalp Forum, FICCI and others. It is a combination of secondary research, organising grand challenges where innovators are invited. We have also taken over primary health centres and we are bringing private sector players to manage dysfunctional primary health centres. So we are assisting the government to manage and operate 30 primary health centres and its 170 subcentres through the social sector partners. These PHCs are being operated per government norms, under government supervision and provide quality and free of cost services to the people. This will help the state address shortages of doctors and make currently dysfunctional PHCs into smart clinics over a period of time. We are working towards setting up state of art diagnostic labs at the district hospitals through private sector partnership, which will provide a number of additional diagnostic tests facilities at rates agreed by government. Our mission in next five year is to bring these and many more innovations which will help the poor in the village get services at their doorstep, reduce his expense of healthcare and also reduce the patient load on the district hospitals.