Lifestyle disease is India’s most significant challenge

Harish Pillai, the chief executive of Aster Medcity, explains some of the main issues and hurdles in the country’s healthcare sector.

Can you talk about the scenario in the healthcare industry in terms of the opportunities that are there for private companies and the need for investment?

I would say our country, from a disease point of view, is in an extremely challenging state because of rapid urbanisation. We’re all into fast food. Lifestyle diseases are our country’s No 1 challenge. India’s become the diabetic capital of the world. If you look at the state of Kerala, we’re a small state of 33 million people, of which 7 million are diabetics. Right since the state was created in 1950, the emphasis was on management of primary healthcare issues. There were no funds available to focus on non-communicable diseases. We have such a huge challenge in the state for cancers – but we only have two centres for referral in the public sector. So we need to have much more investment coming. That is why the space for more and more private investment is required in health care. This is just the example of one state – the story is multifold across the country. The public and private sectors have to join hands.

Is it difficult to find doctors in India?

One of the big challenges facing everybody in India is the shrinking talent pool. We have an acute shortage of teachers in the medical colleges in India. I can tell you on my fingertips the number of endocrinologists this state has. So these are the challenges. Almost 22 per cent of my doctors here in Aster Medcity have come from overseas. I cannot pay the salaries they get in the United Kingdom or United States or South East Asian countries, but the fact that we have created this world-class infrastructure encourages physicians of Indian origin to come back to their own country. We have reversed the brain drain.

How can the human resources challenge be addressed?

Like the oil industry talks about going back into the supply chain, so if you really want to talk about sustainable health care, you have to go back into investment in teaching. We have not just hospitals, we also have a medical college, so we are trying to train our own doctors. Hopefully in 10 years’ time we’ll have the supply chain and our own pool of resources. A bigger problem is that young girls and boys don’t want to join nursing as a profession. You have so many nursing colleges but you will be surprised at how many seats are going vacant. Why would any parent with some sense send their children for nursing when you have IT or some other career where there’s less stress and you get more money?

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