Healthcare Provision in India: Challenges and Opportunities

The sheer scale of India poses some huge healthcare challenges, and opportunities.
As leading healthcare retail chain MedPlus reports healthy profits, we profile the healthcare system in India, the world's most populous country

With news one of India’s biggest retail pharmacy chains has seen a 25% rise in Q4 profits, we explore the wider healthcare system in India 

India is a vast country, and with 1.428 billion citizens, is home to approximately 17.5% of the world's total population, meaning nearly one in every six people on Earth is Indian.

The sheer scale of the country poses some equally large healthcare challenges, and opportunities.

On the retail side, business is booming. This week, MedPlus Health Services, employs 22,000 people, reported a 25% rise in Q4 profits, driven by retail sales.

MedPlus runs a chain of retail pharmacies, and offers prescription medicines, and products around nutrition and healthcare, as well as diagnostic lab services for the prevention, detection and management of various illnesses.

Analysts expect the retail pharmaceutical sector to see strong growth in India in the near term and an increasing market share for organised players such as MedPlus. 

But what about the wider healthcare network in India? What does this look like, and what does the future hold for it, and the huge number of people whose health it has in its hands?

The Indian healthcare system is a diverse and complex network of public and private sectors that provide a wide range of medical services. 

The public sector is managed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and caters to approximately 30% of the population. In the 2023-24 budget, the government allocated ₹89,155 crore ($US 11bn) to healthcare, an increase on the previous year.

Public health provision is undertaken by a raft of schemes and services.  One is the Ayushman Bharat scheme. Launched in 2018, this aims to provide health coverage of up to ₹5 lakh (US$6) per family annually to 100 million poor households. As of June 2023, over 230 million people have been issued health cards, and 47 million hospital admissions have been funded.

The National Health Mission is another public health body. It was started in 2013, and focuses on improving healthcare in rural areas and smaller cities. It has contributed to increased institutional deliveries and immunisation rates, but challenges remain in reducing maternal and infant mortality.

Urban areas and southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu have better healthcare infrastructure compared to rural regions and northern states. Overall, India faces some serious health challenges, including heart disease, diabetes, tuberculosis and malnutrition.

Private healthcare dominates across India

It is private healthcare that dominates in India, serving 70% of the population. Major players include Apollo Hospitals, Fortis Healthcare, and Max Healthcare. 

Health insurance costs vary widely. A basic plan for a 30-year-old might cost ₹5,000 ($63) annually, while comprehensive coverage could exceed ₹25,000 ($313).

India's pharmacy sector is fragmented, with over 800,000 retail outlets. Chains such as MedPlus and Apollo Pharmacy are gaining market share, while E-pharmacies including 1mg and PharmEasy are growing rapidly.

The country’s pharmaceutical industry, meanwhile, is robust, with India being a major global supplier of generic drugs. Leading companies include Sun Pharma, Dr Reddy's Laboratories and Cipla. The industry's market size is expected to reach $130bn by 2030.

Despite seeing significant changes and improvements in recent years, the system continues to face some serious challenges. Among these are: 

  • Inadequate infrastructure
  • A shortage of healthcare professionals
  • Urban-rural disparities
  • Limited health insurance coverage
  • Insufficient public healthcare funding
  • A fragmented healthcare system

In recent years India has emerged as a leading destination for medical tourism, due to the relatively low cost of medical procedures, the availability of skilled doctors, and advanced technology. 

Factors such as cost-effective treatment, advanced technology, a wide range of specialities, alternative medicine, English language proficiency, and ease of travel have contributed to India's growing medical tourism industry.

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