Dr Prathap Reddy
Dr. Prathap C. Reddy, Chairman - Apollo Hospitals Groups,drprathapcreddy.com

Apollo Hospitals, a pioneer in the Indian healthcare industry, has just opened its 66th hospital. In an exclusive chat with International Business Times, Dr. Prathap C. Reddy, Chairman - Apollo Hospitals Groups, discusses healthcare needs in India, medical tourism and more. 

 International Business Times: What are some of the key areas those involved in healthcare in India need to focus on in the next decade?

India is the second most populous nation in the world with an estimated 1.26 billion people in the southern Asian region. The healthcare system in the country is facing challenges for several reasons including rapid urbanization, growing population, increase in the rates of emerging and re-emerging infections and non-communicable diseases.

Increased longevity has increased the rates of chronic diseases among an ageing population, along with demographic changes. Similarly emerging infections such as Influenza, Dengue and Chikungunya place a stress on the frail public health infrastructure.

Workforce migration especially nurses, gaps in the healthcare workforce and decreasing investment in education have all added to the pressure in the public health system. There is a need for a public health workforce trained and equipped in cost effective tools and program interventions to tackle the existing health issues. McKinsey in their report estimated that India needs nearly 330,000 public health trainees to fill the staff gap in the community and primary health care centres. There are very few high quality accredited public health institutes offering competency based curriculum and structured career pathways to Indian students.

IBT: Medical tourism has been key for India. How fast is this sector growing? How can we capitalize on this? 

The Indian medical industry has experienced remarkable growth of 12% per year over the last five years. The hospitals in India today provide world-class facilities, hi- tech specialized treatments, highest qualified teams of doctors and other medical professionals and that to at an affordable cost. To be able to capitalize on this, we need to work further on marketing and promotion of India and make it a preferred global destination for high quality tertiary medical care at an affordable cost.

India needs to look in to the security measures, simplification of visa procedures, creation of more value added services, streamlined competitive pricing policies and very importantly ensure continuous enhancement of the quality of healthcare services.

The presence of world-class hospitals and skilled medical professionals makes India a preferred destination for medical tourism and it caters to and caters to patients chiefly from the US, Europe and Africa. India's earnings from medical tourism could exceed USD $8 billion by 2020.

IBT: Apollo Hospitals has just opened its 66th hospital. What is the vision for the next decade?

Apollo is resolute in its mission to take high quality healthcare closer to every individual and this is our singular focus. Alongside, we will continue to work with the Government of India in strengthening India's repute as a preferred destination for advanced medical care at an optimum cost, thereby serving patients beyond our shores.

An equally potent focus will also be on encouraging preventive healthcare and wellness. India will not be able cope with the disease burden of a growing population unless as healthcare custodians, we act to arrest it rapidly through a concerted effort.

Nurturing a healthier India demands audacious goals and we will work towards them through a stretch of commitment, innovation and technology.

As an organization, Apollo Hospitals in the near term is strengthening its offerings on precision medicine and key centres of excellence like Oncology with the Proton Therapy Centre. Greater geographical growth will be achieved through a cluster strategy with Greenfield projects in high potential newer markets and we will continue to grow laterally in high potential Tier II Cities. Alongside, we will increase our presence in the Indian healthcare retail space and calibrate expansion of the standalone Apollo Pharmacies.

IBT: Is healthcare education vital today in India?

The three biggest challenges for healthcare in India are infrastructure, trained human resources and affordable medical care for all. In addition, the country is challenged with the burden of NCDs (non-communicable diseases). According to the WHO, in India, NCDs are estimated to account for 60 per cent of the deaths. The probability of an Indian, in the age group of 30-70 years, dying at present from the four main non-communicable diseases -- diabetes, cancer, stroke and respiratory problems -- is 26 per cent, it said.

This grim situation inherently demands that to wage war against NCDs and action ahead would need to include increasing awareness about the situation, encouraging people to undergo preventive health checkups and also build facilities to treat people ailing with the diseases. This in turn translates into an acute need to increase our investments in building a much larger healthcare workforce. Hence, we do need many more medical colleges, nursing colleges, dental colleges and several more paramedical training institutes.

Put succinctly, investing in healthcare education is pivotal to battling the pandemic like threat of NCDs and in building a healthier India.

IBT: Apollo Hospitals is a pioneer in the field of healthcare education. What was the reason behind this initiative?

Today though India has over 460 medical colleges, as a nation, we still do not have enough doctors to cover our population. Also, with less than 30% of the graduates able to do their PG in medicine, the skill level of our medical professionals is not improving.

As a pioneering leader, with a view to address the situation, we created a virtual Medical University and we have the largest content of almost 20,000 hours of courses for undergraduates, post- graduates, practicing physicians, specialists, nurses, technologists and it's all available to them.

Also, medical science is evolving rapidly in the present day and this requires healthcare professionals to stay abreast with latest developments in their profession.

Moreover, to be globally competitive, healthcare professionals also need the best resources to help them stay ahead in their professional careers. They seek authentic knowledge and information, one that they can trust and Medvarsity is one such center of excellence. In order to offer the best of global education, we have partnered with international universities including Royal College of General Physicians, Royal Liverpool Academy, University of New South Wales and many others. This also aligns to our mission of international standard healthcare to every individual, even to the doctors and medical staff.

IBT: How will the new program, Master of Public Health, help us?

India faces a tremendous shortage of Public Health professionals to respond to population level control of major diseases including diabetes, cancer and Infectious diseases. As mentioned earlier, non-communicable diseases are going to be the number 1 reason for mortality in India. A strong community and public health program will help doctors and hospitals prepare for the onslaught of NCD's.

The partnership between Medvarsity and UNSW will allow us to bring the best training available anywhere in the world on managing public health and offer it to our students in India. The new Master of Public Health (International) will help address the growing shortage of public health professionals in India. The flexible program is delivered fully online so that busy clinicians can keep working as they achieve this qualification. Healthcare professionals can retain their jobs and avoid the expense of living in Australia, and get a UNSW degree, while still attending UNSW summer school Sydney. Through this course the students can also apply for jobs with global organizations including the WHO, UNESCO, etc.

The partnership between UNSW and Medvarsity began with the diploma in Infectious Diseases which is been doing extremely well, went on to evolve in to a difficult but extremely significant fellowship in epidemiology and statistics, a much needed program for this country and now the global program of Masters of Public Health.

The shortage in this country of Public Health professionals is significant and the output is under two hundred graduates per year. So, with the need for over 300,000 and an output of only 200 and the current numbers of fewer than 6000, quite evidently, our public health system needs a lot of help. The public health programme that we instituted in Aragonda, inspired Medvarsity and UNSW to come together for offering this program. We are very happy that the shared vision of a better and healthier world is reflected in a joint programme.