How CSR Can Help Improve Healthcare

The healthcare sector in India is ailing, the doctors attending to it don’t seem to be making real progress. The government spending on healthcare is estimated to be about 1.5% of the GDP. In comparison to other countries this is significantly lower. Maternal and infant mortality is high, which is unacceptable in any country. Although life expectancy has increased substantially, it is still low compared to many countries. Considerable variation across states has compounded the problem. Private hospitals provide excellent care but are beyond the reach of most people. Public hospitals are affordable but are terribly overcrowded and lack responsiveness. Tertiary care has developed substantially, but primary care needs to grow significantly.

The National Health Policy 2017 was approved by the Cabinet on 15th March 2017 with an objective to achieve the highest possible level of good health and well-being, through a preventive and promotive health care orientation in all developmental policies, and to achieve universal access to good quality health care services without anyone having to face financial hardship. It aims raise expenditure on healthcare in a time bound manner to 2.5% of GDP. It also aims to bring down infant mortality, increase life expectancy, recognize doctors for giving back to the society, promoting AYUSH aiming other things. More details of the policy are still awaited.

Expecting the government to solve all problems is a convenient stance. There is much that companies can do to support health care as a part of their 2 percent mandatory spending. Companies focus significantly on healthcare. Our study of India’s top companies for sustainability and CSR shows that the top 200 companies spend around Rs 1369 crores on healthcare and wellness. About 24% of the total spend on CSR is focused on healthcare. However, much of the spend tends to be focused on health camps and building hospitals or donating to hospitals for upkeep of facilities. Health camps tend to have a short-term orientation and are number driven. Setting up and running hospitals are often poorly targeted.

Given the above issues, companies need to find more way to engage in CSR activities around healthcare. We outline a few themes where Indian companies could refine their focus and their attention:

Improving primary care – There is a need to focus on primary care rather than tertiary care. The local youth could be trained to advise residents on simple treatments. Pharmacies could be trained to provide medicines for common ailments. They could also help with basic diagnostics like blood pressure, pulse, and sugar testing. These will provide people with cheap and efficient health service.

Getting doctors to rural areas – Given that companies are already running hospitals near their plants and have access to greater resources than government, they could provide incentives to doctors to spend time in rural/remote areas and take healthcare where it is desperately needed.

Increase number of doctors – India has a significant shortage of doctors and more importantly well-trained doctors. Companies could subsidize medical education for bright youngsters. They could also partner with existing medical colleges for expansion of facilities, upgrading teaching methodologies, providing access to medical literature, etc.

Provide barefoot doctors – In China, the concept of barefoot doctors has been successful. Farmers are provided basic medical and paramedical training and operate within local communities. They supplement the mainstream healthcare system. Companies could get involved in training barefoot doctors and, maybe, employ them to serve rural areas.

Reducing treatment cost – Companies do a significant amount of work within communities. Given the high cost of medical treatment, especially for the poor, companies could promote health insurance in a brand agnostic way. Companies can tie up with pharma companies to enable a distribution of relatively cheaper medicines. Costs can be driven down further if companies come together to purchase medicines.

Promote traditional medicine – Traditional medicine systems under the umbrella of AYUSH needs to be promoted and can be an excellent ancillary to the mainstream healthcare system. Companies can do a lot to support these alternative medical systems.

Follow-up on health checks – Companies invest significantly in health check-up camps. The need is to push the envelope further and track whether outcomes of health camps lead to people receiving follow-up treatment.

Support non-mainstream illnesses – Both the government and companies tend to focus on illnesses that affect the physical body. There is a greater need to focus mental health, autism and such conditions.

There is a lot that businesses can do to help Indians live longer and more fulfilling lives. The money is there, and the intent is there. Only the right channels need to be tapped.

Written by : Namrata Rana and Utkarsh Majmudar (First posted)