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Coffee and conversation is always a good idea. Well. Almost always.

The warmth of a steaming cup has served exactly three goals since the Indian health ministry installed a coffee machine in a dusty, pan-stained corner last winter. It provides for the after-lunch caffeine hit, keeps hands warm, and most importantly, entertains new guests in the ministry. Those who have a lot to offer to the government.

One such offer is that of unused hospital beds in private hospitals that are otherwise inaccessible to most because the ones who really need them cannot afford them. These beds make about 80% of all the beds in all the hospitals in the country, against the meagre 20% in overcrowded government-funded hospitals. Everyone can see that they are two pieces of a health jigsaw puzzle waiting to be put together, but few did so this year.

In 2017, the Aam Aadmi Party took long strides towards making free and universal healthcare an achievable goal. It also proved that one service that the state government can offer to gain popularity is healthcare. How? By partnering with privately-funded profit-motivated hospitals. Meanwhile, states like West Bengal went on a witch hunt against private hospitals’ revenue by capping prices of medical procedures.

The negotiations between private companies and state governments will continue in 2018 as the former has losses to cover, and the latter is responsible for three quarters of the Indian population that is still not covered by any health scheme or insurance.

Both in talks behind closed doors and public forum, one question became the bone of contention this year—who will pay the actual cost of healthcare? The central government insisted that large corporates should bear the cross. Be it in the form of drug donations or controlled prices of medical devices or higher taxes on unhealthy packaged food. The policy intention was right, the results were not. While donated drugs for drug resistant tuberculosis and capped prices of cardiac stents deprived patients from accessing affordable healthcare, the sin tax on sugar laden aerated drinks pushed stubborn large companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to shift to selling healthy treats this year.

They were not the only ones who pushed the boundaries to new frontiers, pharma companies tried and succeeded in the fields of biopharma and specialty drugs. Large Indian drug manufacturer Sun Pharma partnered with a Korean contact manufacturer to develop a novel biologic, and Biocon succeeded by getting a seal of quality on its biosimilar. Along with the decade-old Eris Lifesciences that went public in 2017.

A new drug policy, biopharma mission, health policy: all inked this year, are an indication that the state is trying to get on the same page as healthcare providers and drug manufacturers. As the negotiations between them get long and hard, 2018 will show who benefits from the association. 

Some stories that readers loved in 2017:

Aam Aadmi Party’s first of its kind experiment in healthcare. Read it here

Only two drugs can treat the tubercular superbug. Both of them are not available in the Indian market. Here is why

The story of price control of stents—right intention but wrong results

Majors like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are inspired by healthy beverage startups like Paperboat and Raw Pressery to diversify

Can Indian drug manufacturers emulate the success they saw in generics in biologics? It looks tough at this point. Why? Read it here

The story of Eris Lifesciences: how a pharmaceutical company became a legitimate unicorn in 10 years


Ruhi Kandhari

Ruhi writes on the impact of healthcare policies, trends in the healthcare sector and developments on the implementation of Electronic Health Records in India. She has an M. Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics.

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