Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while presenting the Union Budget 2023-24 on Wednesday, said that the central government has allocated Rs 89,155 for the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for the next fiscal. This marks a 343 per cent increase from the Rs 86,200.65 crore earmarked for the ministry in financial year (FY) 2023.
The government is planning to provide a boost to the pharmaceutical industry by focusing on research and innovation via a public-private partnership (PPP) model. To this end, the research laboratories of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) will be made available for private colleges in the countries.
The finance minister (FM) said, “A new programme to promote research and innovation in the pharma sector will be taken up through centres of excellence. We shall also encourage industry to invest in research and development in specific priority areas.”
Lauding this move, Shyamakant Giri, the managing director (MD) and president at India Business and Emerging Markets of Amneal Healthcare, said, “The Budget 2023-24 has showcased immense focus on the Indian pharma industry with the announcement of the new research and development program. To support this, the exponential increase in allocation towards such schemes will be a driving force in strengthening India’s global position not only as a manufacturing hub but also promoting India as a prime investment location for pharma research and development.”
Gautam Chopra, the co-founder and CEO of BeatO India, observed that Indian pharmaceuticals are typically known across the world for being cost-effective drugs but were still lacking innovation in new drugs, molecules, and therapies. This year’s budget attempts to change that. He said, “The exponential increase in allocation towards such schemes will be a driving force in strengthening India’s global position not only as a manufacturing hub but also promoting India as a prime investment location for pharma research and development.”
The Union Budget 2023 also announced that the government will work on establishing 157 new nursing colleges in the same location as 157 medical colleges working since 2014. Chopra stated that this is a huge step towards meeting the ever-growing demand for providing care through paramedical staff.
To improve the last-mile reach of healthcare services, Chopra suggested an integration with technology. “It is imperative that [these services] can leverage simple and affordable digital technology, which will help them reach the masses and serve them more efficiently. Integrating this initiative with the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission will be key to delivering services to the last mile,” he added.
Sujata Pawar, co-founder and CEO at Avni, a feminine hygiene and menstrual healthcare start-up called the the government’s intention to empower women entrepreneurs a sensible step.She believed that these self-help clusters focused on raw material supply, product branding and marketing will impact women entrepreneurs in India positively. "Furthermore, the announcement of 157 new nursing colleges will further aid strengthen India’s primary healthcare system," she added.
Archit Garg, co-founder of Glamyo Health believed that widening the country's healthcare infrastructure is critical, but this needs creating a wider pool of skilled talent.
Mindful of this ground reality, last year, Sitharaman had announced AI intervention in health, and NDHM, which had fueled the infrastructure aspect. This year, the FM proposed that the leading medical institutions in the country would have multidisciplinary courses for medical devices. This emphasis on medical device skilling is a move in the right direction for the expansion of the healthcare-pharma ecosystem.
Moroever, Sitharaman proposed setting up three AI centres for excellence at the top institutions to help the health sector develop scalable solutions to problems in a bid to “Make AI in India and Make AI work for India.”
Namit Chugh, investment lead at W Health Ventures is excited about this announcement as AI in healthcare has already shown immense promise globally in improving care. There exists several use cases across diagnostics where AI tools are bettering accuracy, speed and also enabling early diagnosis, mental health where AI chatbots can be used as the first line of treatment, etc.
Given the potential to create large healthcare data sets in India used to train AI and the pool of highly qualified tech talent, this move by the government makes us more ready than ever to make AI in Healthcare a trillion-dollar opportunity," he added.