Budget 2022: Increase spending on preventive healthcare to boost economy

The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be an eye-opener in terms of the vulnerability of those having chronic diseases. Those who had diseases like diabetes, chronic kidney disease and cardiac disease were at higher risk for developing complications from COVID-19 and had a higher mortality rate as well.

This highlighted the immense need for preventing such diseases in the first place. Even diagnosing them at an earlier stage makes a significant difference with regard to the amount spent on treatment and the financial burden on the family and the nation. This is where preventive healthcare comes in.

We now have access to a breakthrough technique called preventive genetic testing which makes it possible to assess the genetic risk of disease.

Awareness is power and based on knowledge of disease risk, a person can make lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes can help prevent or mitigate the effects of chronic diseases and even reverse such diseases.

Smart lifestyle choices made on the basis of these tests can help a person enjoy a longer lifespan and better quality of life.

In light of the benefits that preventive genetic testing offers with regard to healthcare costs, it would be logical for the government to announce measures to support this nascent technology in the forthcoming Budget.

The biotech sector can play a vital role in reducing the burden of healthcare costs for the government. Getting government support can help companies like Bione to deliver more affordable health solutions to the general public.

The biotech industry responded well to the crisis that the pandemic created with quick development of testing kits and vaccines.

There has been intense focus from the government, media and the general public on the important role that biotech plays in combating disease. The industry has a good record for innovation.

Healthcare startups like Bione can play a pivotal role in combating disease. New-age technologies like preventive genetic testing, precision medicine and clinical genetic testing combined with artificial intelligence and data security have completely transformed the biotech sector.

This new category of startup companies use a unique combination of software technology and scientific expertise to make personalized and actionable health insights available through email and mobile.

We need to expand our universal healthcare schemes and insurance programs to cover preventive genetic testing as well.

Budgetary measures to boost this sector will not only reduce the financial burden on individual families and the nation as a whole, but will also lead to greater productivity, less absenteeism, longer lifespans and better quality of life.

As of February 11, 2021, India had a population of a billion plus people. We had 1 doctor for 1511 people and one nurse for 670 people. We need to make healthcare accessible and affordable for all and to bridge the urban-rural divide.

The current government’s dream of universal health coverage cannot come true without mainstreaming preventive healthcare.

Despite having such a huge population, India is among the countries with the lowest public spending on healthcare in the world.

The current government spending on healthcare including that of the state and central governments is only about 1.3 percent of GDP.

The government needs to raise the share of healthcare as a proportion of GDP to at least 2.5 percent in the upcoming Budget.

It is our fond hope that the Union Budget would include a focused approach towards supporting private research and the development of innovative technology solutions in the biotech sector.

Practical measures in this regard can include tax breaks and government grants for setting up research and testing facilities,reducing GST across all products and services and incentives for technology adoption.

The government can build on its earlier policy incentives like PLI schemes and dedicated medtech parks by increasing government allocations for such purposes.

(The writer is Founder & CEO – Bione-DNA and Microbiome testing company based out of Bangalore)

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