In 1859, when Charles Darwin presented his famed theory of evolution by natural selection, inherent in its essence was the abiding notion of survival of the fittest. To evolve, compete and do better has been the cornerstone of the survival of any species. This has also helped ensure that countries and societies have created an era that is prosperous and (largely) peaceful than at any other time in history.
Innovation, progressive disruption and the effective use of intellectual property are the new tools of the economy this century. For examples, one only has to look at Israel or Singapore, nation-states that would have previously not featured highly in the global pecking order because of their size and scale, when using the metrics of 20th century economies. But in the 21st century, they are clear leaders on their strengths in the fields of scientific, industrial and financial innovations. Hence the lessons for emerging markets are clear — the need to innovate and compete globally.
India’s case has been a success story of sorts. From a country that was hardly acknowledged, to becoming a case study in economic reforms, it has done much to improve the health of the economy and its people. As one of the top growing economies in the world, it now stands at the cusp of leapfrogging from an emerging to a near-advanced economy over the next decade. But going forth, many of the paradigms that have held the Indian economy in good stead may not be efficient in the decades ahead. Equally so, providing access to health care, medical technologies and pharmaceutical products for a billion people is still a challenge, with no clear consensus on the best way forward.
Improving the environment for innovation and enhancing competitiveness, especially in areas such as science and technology and health care, will help propel our economic engine of growth and improve the health indices of citizens. In an emerging environment of protectionism and the rise of the anti-globalisation movement, the need to innovate and compete will become even more important. Advanced western economies, with low single-digit growth rates, are now resorting to protectionist measures. What is troubling is that matching voices are being heard within emerging economies like India. The more prudent step would be to enhance capabilities to innovate rather than merely adopt as this changing global mood becomes more perverse. The answer lies in creating a knowledge and information technology-based, intellectual property-focussed and entrepreneurially-led economy — or a KITE economy as it were.
Reversing research outflow
In the field of health, pharmaceuticals and scientific research, the need to protect the intellectual property of all entities is crucial. We need a multi-fold increase in scientific capabilities and infrastructure as well as a regulatory framework to enhance clinical research. Over the past decade, clinical research, especially clinical trials, has moved away from India to countries like China owing to policy decisions. Reversing this will not only help India to innovate and compete with the rest of the world but also create jobs across the value chain.
Similarly, taking meaningful steps to be in step with international best practices, remove barriers and enhance predictability in the patents regimes will help grow the innovation paradigm in health access, pharmaceutical developments and medical device manufacturing in India. In order to do this, structural reforms and increased funding of regulatory agencies are a must.
India needs to improve competitiveness through a paradigm shift in innovation and intellectual property rights. Its scientists, technology entrepreneurs and health evangelists need to have a protective umbrella of a strong patent regime that helps them innovate without having to look over their shoulders. Steps to make India a KITE leader in health are the need of the hour.
So, while the government attempts more structural reforms, it would do well to ensure that the overall competitiveness of the health sector improves as it embarks on an ambitious mission to provide quality health care to more than a billion citizens.
Dr. Karan Thakur is a doctor and health-care administrator in the private sector. The views expressed are personal