“Healthcare is not charity for poor or a commodity for the rich”: Dr Gagandeep Kang

Dr Gagandeep Kang, the first woman from India to be elected Fellow of the Royal Society, delivers IIMB’s 47th Foundation Day lecture and emphasizes the need to reimagine the healthcare system in the country with a strong research ecosystem and better collaboration between state and non-state actors

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Bengaluru: “There is no reason why we, in India, cannot chart a new path for the emerging world of healthcare. Despite the challenges and complexity, we must use our learning and synthesis to reimagine India’s healthcare system to lay out a path, that works with state and non-state actors, to provide a resilient healthcare system for comprehensive, accountable, accessible, inclusive and affordable quality healthcare to every Indian,” said Chief Guest Dr. Gagandeep Kang, FRS, Professor of Microbiology, Division of Gastrointestinal Sciences, Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, while delivering the Foundation Day Lecture on ‘Reimagining the Indian Healthcare System’, at the 47th Foundation Day celebrations of Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB), on 28th October.
The 47th Foundation Day of IIMB was celebrated with speeches, awards and more. For the first time ever, the event was held on virtual mode from start to finish, due to the pandemic crisis.
Explaining the evolution of modern or allopathic medicine in India as a system, Dr. Gagandeep Kang said today we can broadly classify Indian healthcare as ranging from the best-in-class services that are available to the relatively wealthy and insured population that never need to access a government hospital to everyone else without the luxury of choice. “And within that latter category, are who can access some form of healthcare from some system of formal medicine and others for whom reliance on informal care or what is available in their communities is the only option.”
She went on to say that despite economic growth over the last two decades, we often hear that India’s healthcare system is broken. “However, we have been improving our statistics related to infant mortality, maternal mortality and immunization,” she observed.
Discussing the lack of emphasis on healthcare in our country, she said that India spends a very low proportion of its national income on public healthcare. “In the structuring of medical education, in the building, staffing and running of health and wellness centres, in the regulation of healthcare providers at all levels from the village to the five-star hospital, and of the industry that provides drugs and devices, there are failures of form or function that need attention”.
Hailing the National Health Policy, 2017, which is committed to increasing government health spending and laying out the role of the Government in shaping health systems in all dimensions, she said any policy is only as good as its implementation.
Dr. Kang said that the SARS-CoV2 experience has taught us not just the importance of planning and preparedness, but has also highlighted the crying need for communication and trust where public health concerns necessitate any form of action. “A lot has changed in the last six months; we have recognized that diagnostics is important and needs to be scaled to provide information on infectious diseases. We have begun to manufacture equipment, tools, consumables, kits, that we have never done at scale before. We realized that global supply chains are easily disrupted and strategic planning for disasters requires an understanding of critical control points. And I hope that we have realized the tremendous economic impact of the pandemic and our attempts to control it, require us to rethink, reimagine India’s healthcare system”.
She added, “The long-standing need for universal health coverage in India has been brought into sharp focus, but healthcare in India was in dire need of reform long before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic could worsen health disparities since much of the public health system has been redeployed in response to the pandemic, disrupting routine health services”.
Pointing out that there was no shortage of challenges in the long neglected and under supported Indian healthcare system, she recommended few measures to address the challenges. “An affordable, accessible healthcare system which delivers a good patient experience is not within the reach of most Indians. We recognize that investing in health is an investment in our future. We must leverage new technologies and tools. And the time has to be ‘now’. Public health and primary health have never been attractive fields, but a healthcare system that treats the ill, and does not address the risk factors for illness is on a pathway of endless investment, not just for managing outbreaks but also to address the inexorable rise of non-communicable diseases.”
“We must also delve into the relationships and complementarities between the private, public and informal healthcare sectors; we need to see how complementary systems of medicine could be incorporated and regulated to benefit from traditional knowledge; we ought to find out how to replicate positive exemplars in public healthcare systems, we must research the distinctive roles of central, state and local governments in delivering and regulating healthcare, identify regulatory measures to ensure accountability, financial protection, etc., and implement systems of feedback and transparency.”
She concluded her talk on an optimistic note. “At the moment, the world is in crisis, pinning hopes on a vaccine that will not restore us to 2019, no matter what we fervently desire. But in nine months, public health and science have shown us that we can move with speed, that we can implement measures of control, collaborate and come with new technologies for potential, if partial, solutions. Although there have been examples of isolationism and denial of science, in the main, we have demonstrated solidarity, and a recognition that we are in this together and that complex, interlinked problems can be understood and worked upon leading to solutions, by careful design and experiment.”
The speech was followed by a Q&A session, moderated by Professor Rajendra K Bandi, Dean, Administration.
Dr. Gagandeep Kang is the first woman from India to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. She is also the first Indian woman to be elected to Fellowship of the American Academy of Microbiology and is the only physician-scientist to receive the Infosys Award in Life Sciences.
Dr. Devi Shetty’s address
Apart from the lecture by the Chief Guest, there were addresses by Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty, Chairman, Board of Governors, IIMB, and Professor Rishikesha T. Krishnan, Director, IIMB, mostly about resetting ourselves in view of the current situation – in business and in health.
“Dr. Kang is a distinguished virologist whose policies are being adopted by the government to deal with COVID”, said Dr. Devi Shetty and pointed out that although Covid has turned our world upside down, there were few positives brought about by the crisis as well. Talking about the growing popularity of telemedicine, he said: “What would have taken five years before, took just five weeks post-Covid. Telemedicine was illegal before Covid came, now it has been legalized. People have embraced it too. In the field of academics as well, there was a lot of debate about online education before, now it is a reality. All these are the need of the hour and beneficial to society.”
He advised the students to always keep themselves motivated, especially at such crucial times. “You students had entered management college with a clear plan in mind, but when you graduate you will enter a whole new and different world of business, so be prepared for the same. The pandemic could make us disillusioned. But remember, if there is one country that will emerge as the winner in this crisis – it is India. That is because we have learnt to manage ourselves among adversities, we Indians are very adaptable. So, start working to build a new India which we all would be proud of”.
IIMB has plans aplenty
Professor Rishikesha T Krishnan in his address thanked students, faculty and staff for helping the institute sustain its scholastic excellence and enhance its digital learning experience, while achieving a seamless transition from classroom to online learning during the pandemic. He described the efforts of the IIMB community in dealing with the effects of the pandemic, and had a special word of appreciation for NSRCEL – IIMB’s start-up hub – which has been collaborating with IISc and other top institutes to work with start-ups that are finding innovative solutions to COVID-19 challenges. He had a special word of thanks for the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) in supporting IIMB, significantly.
Lauding the Centre for Public Policy for organizing a vibrant global conference with eminent speakers from across the world in August, Professor RTK also congratulated the IIMB faculty who continue to receive top honours and awards, and who have been conducting webinars and writing thought leadership articles in the media, including Rajasthan Patrika, thereby reaching a hitherto unreached audience.
“Students have taken to the online medium with elan, organizing events like Eximius with great speakers. Other events like the business fest Vista and the IIMB Business Conclave are in the pipeline – showing that our students have adapted remarkably to the new normal,” Prof. RTK said. Sharing the exciting news that IIMB’s three degree-granting MBAs are  among the top 100 globally in the Financial Times world rankings, he listed IIMB’s initiatives in the coming years — a  four-year UG programme in the liberal arts from 2023 (the school’s golden jubilee year), creating high quality digital education for hospital management and public policy, an online bachelor programme in entrepreneurship, and impactful research across multiple disciplines including MSMEs, manufacturing and healthcare. “We are building the new campus with highest bio-diversity standards while protecting and strengthening the bio-diversity on our existing campus,” he added.
Awards for faculty and staff
The Foundation Day celebrations also saw Long Service Awards being presented to faculty. The 20 years’ Service Award was presented to faculty members Ishwar Murthy and Shubhabrata Das, both Professors in the Decision Sciences area. The 10 years’ Service Award was presented to faculty members Kanchan Mukherjee, Professor in Organizational Behavior & Human Resources Management, Sreelata Jonnalagedda, Associate Professor of Marketing, Hema Swaminathan, Associate Professor in the Public Policy area, Chetan Subramanian, Professor of Economics & Social Sciences and Dean (Faculty), and Srinivasan Rangan, Associate Professor in the Finance & Accounting area. Thanksgiving to the faculty was done by Professor Chetan Subramanian, Dean, Faculty.
Long Service Awards were also presented to IIMB’s non-teaching staff. The 10 years’ Service Award was given to 12 permanent and seven contract employees, while two employees each received the 30 years’ Service Award and 40 years’ Service Award. Thanksgiving to staff was done by Professor Rajendra K Bandi, Dean, Administration.
The Foundation Day celebrations began with the vibrant and upbeat IIMB anthem, ‘Hum hain IIMB/We are IIMB/Proud of our legacy’. The welcome address by the Chief Administrative Officer, Col. (Retd.) S D Aravendan, was followed by an evocative invocation by students – Vaibhav and Smriti, and digital lighting of the lamp. Glimpses of virtual events that took place through the year were shown – inauguration of batches, cultural programs, quizzes, faculty-student meets, the entrepreneurship summit Eximius, and more.
The IIMB community of faculty, former faculty, students, staff and alumni were part of this digital event.