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  • The author of this article is Dr. Edmond Fernandes, Co-Founder, Mission ICU

The pandemic has exposed the limitations and opportunities of the Indian healthcare system, and has brought to light the lack of crucial healthcare infrastructure, especially in the rural parts of the country. And while there had been a lot of ‘capacity building’ and so called physical infrastructure in the rural villages, which was sponsored by politicians or government establishments, there continues to remain an urgent need for trained resources like specialist doctors and staff trained in critical care. This scenario, which was probably not highlighted in the pre-COVID era, became a significant differentiator when the nation was grappling with a fatal second wave, and registered a remarkable rise in COVID positive cases. 

Although there has been a prompt response from the government bodies, non government organizations and private hospitals who have been working on the war footing to provide adequate and timely medical aid, the efforts have largely been witnessed only in metros and tier 2 towns, while the rural areas were forced to find their own solutions. And a lot of this responsibility was shouldered by NGO’s and Social health care workers, who at times, became the only source of information, resource, and guidance for the rural population. In spite of this, the only aid they could provide was limited to first response treatments, and pointing them out to the nearest critical care facility in the city. This led to only one of the two options for the rural populace – either travel to the nearest towns for medical treatment or to stay put and succumb to their fate, none of which ensured that they will get a fair access to advanced medical care. 

This crisis has highlighted the urgent need for building strong Public-Private Partnerships for not just addressing the immediate concerns but to build risk informed planning and retrofit the rural critical healthcare infrastructure for better preparedness during disasters and pandemics. Listed here are 4 key areas where Public Private Partnerships can make a sea-change of difference in improving the overall social healthcare infrastructure of the country. 

  1. Assessing the region: Working at the grass root levels, NGO’s and social health workers are better equipped to understand and analyze the immediate challenges and requirements of the region. From key vulnerabilities of the population, environmental and socio-economic factors as well as unique cultural patterns that impact the overall health of the population, to the kind of medical infrastructure demand and skills needed to address that demand, NGO’s and social health workers can help accurately map these at the grass root level. Leveraging this for effective assessment of the region could be a key differentiators for ensuring that the public health policies are relevant and effective, when implemented. 
  2. Strengthening public health education: Having accurately assessed the region and impacted policy decisions, it is vital to also have adequate people support for effectively driving change. Having worked closely on the grass route level, they have a  better rapport with the locals, and are more trusted by the local, hence can go a long way in influencing behavioural change among the population. From adopting healthy changes that require moving away from deep rooted habits to transforming basic lifestyle choices that can help create long term and impactful health choices, NGO’s and social health workers can be key enablers to educating and influencing local behaviour and life choices. 
  3. Policy Implementation: A lot of effective social health policies fail due to ineffective implementation. Given the in-depth knowledge of the region, the people and the unique health and social challenges faced by the region, local NGO’s and social health workers are best equipped to help effective implementation of new policies. This is particularly significant in times like the current pandemic or even in case of urgent critical care requirements. Working in alignment with the government, NGO’s and social health workers can help translate and explain the policy, its impact and the benefits that the rural community will be able to enjoy, when embraced. 
  4. Impacting long term change: As a cumulative result of the above mentioned factors, starting with assessment, education, and policy implementation, social health care workers can partner and work consistently with public health workers to bring about long term, permanent and effective change in the healthcare infrastructure in the rural areas. Realising the true potential of Public-Private Partnerships, the rural and the overall healthcare infrastructure of the country can finally evolve, steadily but surely. 

Given the new dynamics, evolved in not only healthcare but also the overall trade, industry and lifestyle transformation due to the accelerated tech adoption, the world around is changing drastically. Under these circumstances, the challenges that are currently being faced, can no longer be effectively addressed unless the public and the private and social sector can all come together to assess, draft and implement changes that reflect the current need of its people. 

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