Best of 2016

Spotting health in India’s healthcare

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The year is coming to an end. As we take stock, we are delighted to note what we’ve managed to do in three short months. And are grateful to have found you as readers. Thank you.

Now we slip into a short break. Starting today, our writers will pick a theme each day, explaining some of the stories we’ve written on that and why.

Let me kick off the week with healthcare.

Industries around us are being disrupted, almost without an exception. But not healthcare. Certainly not in the way, say, music, transportation, retail, and, of course, banking and payments, have been disrupted in recent times. Software has come to eat biology but it ain’t eating healthcare, not in the foreseeable future. And even if it begins to eat healthcare, wherever that may be, the model won’t be as easily copy-paste-able as in other businesses.

Which is why the state of healthcare in India is a writing on the wall. The ICE 360° survey this year showed 3% of the richest 20% and 6.8% of the poorest 20% households found one-fifth of their annual income wiped out by a health shock.

This year has seen events that seem to have a sense of doubt and delight programmed into them.

The pharmaceutical industry is facing its gravest challenge in several years—price erosion in regulated markets, quality erosion in the regulators’ eyes. Some of that will be addressed in 2017 but more is expected from the domestic market where a new drug policy is in the works. Let us hope it cuts some regulatory cholesterol.

Some trimming may be due in services, too. As I said, copy-paste doesn’t work well in Indian healthcare — we showed that in IVF and stem cell banking. Not too long ago, I counted 10 cath labs within a 2-km radius in north Bengaluru. Such excesses in cardiac care have nasty side-effects.

We also see that in the gush of faith, and rush of funds, to the AYUSH ministry. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big believer in nature-derived products but it’s hard to look up to them when they lack scientific backing. The Ministry has a poor record on this. A case in point is the so-called diabetes drug BGR-34, which should at best be labeled as a herbal supplement. Two weeks after we published the story in October, ASCI banned the ad saying “it is misleading” and “is in breach of the law as it violated The Drugs & Magic Remedies Act”. We also adequately fielded questions from senior scientists involved in this herbal preparation. Yet the drug maker, AIMIL Pharmaceuticals, won the “AYUSH brand of the year award” in  December.

Be on guard in 2017, cow urine-based products could be next.

Whatever it is, we’ll bring you the major shifts. Like we did this year:

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