The nation must engage in discussions on how to apply the “Make in India” initiative in the health sector, use information technology-related tools to create healthier societies, and popularize “new models” of telemedicine, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday.

These are the “three things on which I would urge maximum discussion and participation”, he said at the 25th Foundation Day celebration of the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences (RGUHS).

Modi also inaugurated a hackathon, “Innovation Challenge on Covid-19” at RGUHS via a video conference.

“The initial gains in this make me optimistic. Our domestic manufacturers have started production of PPEs (personal protective equipment) and have supplied about 1 crore PPEs to covid-19 warriors,” Modi said.

The country is at present producing more than 300,000 PPEs and N95 masks per day, according to the Union health ministry.

The statement comes at a time when India, like many other countries, is trying to reduce its dependence on China, which dominates global pharmaceutical production and is a big producer of medical equipment.

India should use the coronavirus episode to revive its position in antibiotics production that it lost to China more than two decades ago, said leading companies in the pharmaceutical industry.

“We hope that this momentum is taken forward as public health procurement is now a proven Make in India driver and investments in producing medical devices domestically are given price preference rather than being asked to match remunerative L1 (lowest bids) prices of Chinese goods,” said Rajiv Nath, forum coordinator, Association of Indian Medical Device Industry.

The Prime Minister’s message to leverage telemedicine also has monetary benefits, according to experts.

Globally, telemedicine has emerged as a frontline weapon against coronavirus. India could save up to $10 billion in 2025, if telemedicine replaced 30% to 40% of in-person outpatient consultations and there is digitization in the overall healthcare industry, said a McKinsey report.

“To scale up telemedicine, providers should be able to streamline and simplify the patient experience,” said Vikram Thaploo, chief executive officer, Telehealth, Apollo Hospitals. “Instead of all patients crowding the outpatient department of a hospital, some of them can receive the same services from e-diagnosis, e-testing, e-prescription, and remote health monitoring apps from the comfort of their homes,” said Thaploo.

Modi also urged that technology be made a bigger part of the healthcare sector. He said the Aarogya Setu app, downloaded by almost 120 million people, has helped India’s fight against covid-19.

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