The Indo-Dutch Healthcare Partnership: What’s in it for us?

India's Relationship with Netherlands

India's Relationship with NetherlandsRecently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, to enhance ties of cooperation in key areas between the two countries. Apart from looking at boosting infrastructure, ship yards and ‘Make in India’ projects, the two parties also inked deals in the healthcare field. In particular, manufacture of measles and rubella vaccines is to be undertaken in India.

In addition, partnerships between Fortis Healthcare and VitalHealth Software; the Indian healthcare industry body, NATHEALTH and the Dutch life and health sciences agency, Task Force Health Care (TFHC) were finalised. While Fortis is aiming to get the International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM) certificate out of its partnership deal, NATHEALTH is seeking to promote cooperation and exchange of information, knowledge and expertise with TFHC.

TFHC Highlights Prevailing Medical Care Conditions in India

The TFHC, in a June 2014 document titled Healthcare Market in India, has highlighted the prevailing medical care conditions in India. The salient observations are:

1. Growing population with simultaneous increase in life expectancy; in particular maternity, child care and geriatric health needs are expected to shoot up
2. Increasing prevalence of lifestyle and non-communicable disorders such as cardiac conditions, diabetes and cancers
3. Growing middle class, with rising incomes, and increasing insurance coverage
4. Higher demand for preventive and diagnostic health services
5. High influx of foreign tourists to the tune of about nine lakh, who come seeking cardiac care, joint replacements and organ transplants
6. Augmented government initiatives with entry into tier 2 and 3 cities, and evolving healthcare delivery models

TFHC further notes that India has increased the health expenditure to 2.5% of the GDP, and that the private sector is responsible for nearly 80% of new bed capacity. With this in mind, TFHC seeks to foray into areas such as healthcare delivery, pharma and biotech, medical technology and medical insurance. An optimistic picture is put forth, as TFHC states that with right pricing, long-term focus, organisational flexibility, and private sector dominance, India might be the ideal healthcare market for Dutch companies to do business in.

While it is encouraging to note the importance given to tier 2 and 3 cities as far as developing health infrastructure and manpower is concerned, this may just be a reflection of the fact that the next economic upsurge is expected to occur in these cities. It is the tier 4 to 6 cities/towns/villages that we are actually concerned about, since healthcare facilities remain woefully inadequate in these places.

It is also worthwhile considering the reach of these programmes if and when implemented. Any health care initiative should be able to meaningfully involve the bulk of the health service users, namely the poor and those from rural and underdeveloped areas. Rural health infrastructure is in a bad shape and needs urgent revamping and scaling up to meet the standards maintained by corporate hospitals. Rural health manpower is another deficient area, and health care staff members such as doctors, nurses, and para-clinical staff should be encouraged, or incentivised to stay in these deficient areas, and improve local health services. Primary care centres and government hospitals all across the country are in dire need of upliftment.

All these are noted by the Dutch in their other document, Exploiting Opportunities in Indian Medical Market, which emerged from an interactive workshop conducted in April 2013. Also, India is not the sole market for the Dutch government to be doing business in; it aims to start similar partnerships with China, Vietnam, Colombia and South Africa. The Dutch companies planning to invest are also issued directives to ensure two things: the projects should have adequate profitability and continuity perspective.

It remains to be seen whether partnerships such as these, and the others that the Modi government may venture into in the future, would help bridge the gap between increasing healthcare demands and quality medical care for all. For now though, it appears to be a step in the right direction.