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Public-private partnerships can improve rural healthcare in the digital age

Public-private partnerships are delivering digital dispensaries in Madhya Pradesh, India

Public-private partnerships are delivering digital dispensaries in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Image: Shutterstock

Pamela D.A. Reeve
Chair of the Board, American Tower
Shobana Kamineni
Executive Vice Chairperson, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Limited
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • There is a need for better healthcare access in rural areas of India; a vision solidified during the pandemic.
  • Public-private partnerships are powerful drivers of community-focused solutions for improved services, including education and health-orientated provisions.
  • Organizations with a portfolio of strong projects can especially provide solid partnering opportunities.

For many, the advances in telehealth driven by the pandemic have improved access to healthcare, but for others, basic healthcare services still elude them. Two years ago, the World Economic Forum played virtual host as many public and private entities gathered as the world faced a global pandemic. The vision of the resulting EDISON Alliance was to foster and accelerate collaboration between the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) community and other critical sectors of the economy to improve the quality of life in communities of need.

That vision inspired a partnership between Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation (ATNF) and American Tower Corporation (ATC) CSR Foundation India to launch five digital dispensaries in rural Madhya Pradesh in the heart of central India.

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Accessing healthcare through the lens of public-private partnerships in rural India

Access to medical services remains a problem in rural parts of India as the country’s healthcare provision tends to be skewed to urban centres. Therefore, teleconsultations can bring quality healthcare services to rural communities and provide them with primary, preventive and speciality consultation services.

Telemedicine is part of the current digital transformation efforts of healthcare taking place globally. It enables tremendous possibilities in extending the reach of healthcare capabilities by improving treatment and opening up patient-facing capacities.

The five digital dispensaries, funded by ATC and operated by ATNF, will use hybrid internet connectivity to deliver high-quality healthcare via telemedicine. Providing access to about 200 villages across four districts and nearly 250,000 people, the centres will host virtual doctor consults daily, stock and dispense 60+ essential drugs to patients, conduct a host of necessary lab tests and assessments and periodically conduct free screening camps.

Digital healthcare is part of a community-focused approach to service inclusion. In this regard, American Tower’s Digital Communities programme has already created projects that serve more than 200 communities, leveraging the uninterrupted power supply and connectivity of ATC’s communications sites to provide essential services, such as education, to the underprivileged. More than 200,000 students have enrolled in learning centres and over 192,000 have received digital skills certifications to enhance employability.

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EDISON Alliance: What is the Forum doing to close the digital gap?

The partnership approach is also not new to ATNF, which has used public-private partnerships to contribute to India’s primary healthcare. Doing so can reach a powerful number of people and generate many teleconsultations, transactions and screenings. For instance, in total, ATNF partnerships have impacted 13 million people through over 16.5 million teleconsultations, 20,000 daily clinical transactions and more than 1.5 million non-communicable disease screenings.

Healthcare service providers are sparse in rural areas; telemedicine is, therefore, a powerful driver of healthcare access and equity and a service whose legitimacy was rapidly solidified during the pandemic.

Teleconsultation services can be widened through public-private partnerships in rural India.
Teleconsultation services can be widened through public-private partnerships in rural India. Image: American Tower Corporation (ATC) CSR Foundation India

Acknowledging precedent and platform

Such a partnership is all the more powerful due to the existing groundwork each partner has laid down. For instance, ATNF has already provided innovative medical services platforms to various parts of India and its country-wide approach to universal healthcare is part of its mission. In tandem, ATC serves on the board of Boston-based Mass General Brigham (MGB), one of the largest healthcare research and service ecosystems in the United States and has worked with dedicated caregivers as chair of the Mass General Physicians’ Organization and the MGB Community Physicians.

The American Tower-Apollo Hospitals partnership also emerged from the EDISON Alliance’s 1 Billion Lives Challenge, which aims to develop affordable and accessible digital solutions across health, finance and education by 2025. It is an example of cross-sectoral action for social and economic outcomes through connectivity and the growing number of private-private partnerships where companies from different sectors collaborate to enhance the well-being of the communities in which they operate. These emerging centres then aim to address the gender inequity in the healthcare segment at the grassroots level. Similar stories are now being written about what digital connectivity means for financial inclusion, community education and career development, among other areas.

Creative public-private partnerships envisioned by the EDISON Alliance and other such similar partnerships can help underserved and unserved communities in India and worldwide receive the benefits of today’s digital transformation and, in turn, catalyze sustainable economic and social development for all.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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