Experts deliberate on healthcare as a commodity vs basic human need

The Tata Memorial Centre’s Platinum Jubilee Conference held at Mumbai recently was focused on drug discovery and innovation, setting up of and managing infrastructure, medical and human resources and reducing out-of-pocket expenses

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Mumbai: The Tata Memorial Centre’s Platinum Jubilee Conference, held at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the focus was on the various economic factors involved in providing universal healthcare coverage in India.

The 3-day conference, themed “Healthcare: A Commodity or Basic Human Need?” brought together national and international representatives of health systems across the world, to address this very relevant question. Today, leading health and economic experts from both developed and developing countries, discussed and debated key economic and cost issues such as the real worth of high priced drugs, the economic and ethical concerns of disease screening, and whether or not healthcare should be considered a commodity or a basic human need that requires government support.

Delivering the Platinum Jubilee Conference keynote address, Dr Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate and Bharat Ratna recipient said, “No country has ever successfully provided universal health coverage without the strong support and commitment of the public health sector. It is disconcerting to note that despite being the world’s largest democracy, we are far from achieving reasonably good standards of healthcare delivery in India even today. I am hopeful that a conference of this kind can bring together all stakeholders to address these issues.”

At the conference, speaking on the need to prioritize health expenditure, Mr Alok Kumar, Adviser, Niti Aayog said, “It is unfortunate that health does not feature among our nation’s top priorities. Increasing allocation to healthcare has now assumed great urgency. For us to be able to meet our UHC goal by 2030, we need to pre-pool mechanisms to support UHC; introduce “sin taxes”; and leverage private financing.”

Another highlight of day 2 of the conference was The Big Debate: Is Healthcare a commodity? Arguing ‘Yes’ was David W. Johnson, CEO of 4sight Health and arguing ‘No’ was Tito Fojo, Professor of Medicine, Columbia University Medical Centre. While the debate raised many relevant questions, it was agreed that healthcare was a basic need and that a universal health system was essential for every country.

Mr R Venkataramanan, Managing Trustee, Tata Trusts commented, “Flexible funding and a focus on strengthening institutions to build capacity are key priorities that one takes away from this unique conference. As a philanthropic organisation, our endeavour has been to reduce inequality in healthcare delivery and to make access to care affordable.” The eminent speakers also participated in a panel discussion, that focused on healthcare spending, and attempted to address the question: Does more spending result in better health outcomes? The general consensus was that, in addition to good nutrition, sanitation and clean drinking water, more spending is urgently needed in areas of maternal, child and adolescent health, vaccines, strengthening of the primary healthcare system, encouraging primary education, increasing accountability for service delivery, patient education, and facilitating secondary and tertiary care with the public-private sector.