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Building a critical care infrastructure in Rural India – Decoding the funding & investment challenges

India’s healthcare sector has witnessed significant improvements over the past few years. However, these developments are largely restricted to urban areas and the rural areas are still grappling with a host of issues that need immediate attention. Around 65% of the country’s population resides in rural areas. And yet, rural India only has 3.2 government hospital beds per 10,000 people, showcasing the disparity in access to basic healthcare infrastructure.
In terms of CSR trends, the Director’s reports from the CSR portal of the corporate affairs ministry, sourced on September 2021, states that the number of companies engaged in CSR activities dropped by about 93% on an annual basis at 1,619 in 2020-21, compared to 22,531 a year ago. However, according to the India Philanthropy Report 2022 by consulting firm Bain & Co, and non-government organization Dasra, healthcare received Rs 6,363 crore of CSR funding in Fy21 from Rs 4,888 crore in Fy20, a jump of 30 percent.
Now, post COVID, We have seen several private and non-governmental organizations come forward to address the critical issues faced by the rural healthcare sector. They are, however, faced with a myriad of challenges. Funding and investment challenges are among the chief problems faced by companies and individuals seeking to invest in rural healthcare projects.
Listed below are a few important challenges standing in the way of smooth implementation of critical care projects:

1. Finding a credible on-ground implementation partner

Building an efficient infrastructure demands the services of a credible and competent on-ground partner, something that companies investing in rural infrastructure for CSR initiatives struggle to find. Long-term healthcare projects can bring the desired impact only if there is strong collaboration between these 2 stakeholders, and the on-ground partners bring their competence and relevant expertise to build critical care infrastructure.

2. Risk management issues

Risk management is critical for successful execution of large scale healthcare projects. Project competence gaps, poorly estimated budgets, and lack of human resources are major risks involved in large CapEx projects. Inadequate risk management is one of the major contributing factors for low investments in rural healthcare projects. Overseeing risk from investment and operational perspectives can be taxing for companies, especially when working in collaboration with an NGO where there are multiple risk factors to be considered.

3. Lack of trained medical staff

A sophisticated infrastructure is redundant if there is no trained staff to utilize the equipment and facilities provided. While individuals and private organizations are ready to mobilize resources to augment the healthcare infrastructure, there is a serious dearth of skilled workforce that can optimally utilize this infrastructure. The shortage of doctors and paramedical professionals is one of the major reasons why companies are skeptical about investing in rural healthcare infrastructure.

4. Poor internet connectivity

The dismal internet penetration in rural areas is yet another challenge. Access to broadband internet is a must for tele-health programs. NGOs and private organizations that are involved in the development of tele-health programs in rural areas are often faced with internet connectivity issues. High speed internet is unfortunately not available in rural areas and this is a major hindrance for rolling out tele-health programs for remote patient care in rural areas.

5. Lack of adequate human resources and basic infrastructure

Organizations looking to create a sustainable impact with their healthcare projects need the support of a large workforce that stays committed to the project till its completion. Lack of human resources to roll-out such projects is a major issue. Plus, the logistic challenges associated with transportation of man and materials in rural areas is another concern as the condition of roads is not at all satisfactory.
Creating a long term sustainable impact in rural areas is definitely not an easy task as there are several practical difficulties involved. Though there are numerous organizations and individuals willing to invest in rural health infrastructure, the various obstacles to investing in such projects dissuade them from making a significant contribution. While funds may not always be the prime concern, lack of proper means to utilize those funds is something that needs to be addressed. Private-public partnerships or collaboration with a credible on-ground partner with proven track record in building critical care infrastructure can help overcome the barriers to some extent. A sustainable impact can be achieved only when there is a genuine effort and commitment from organizations beyond monetary contributions.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
Maanoj Shah_Mission ICUMaanoj Shah is a Chartered Accountant, a People Champion with strong Business creation, strategy and scaling-up experience. Apart from co-founding Mission ICU, he has played a key role in many social initiatives like Khaana Chahiye (Volunteer management), Co founder Corona Champions (Covid awareness initiative) & Giftchange (A platform for changemakers).