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Govt may consider expanding Jan Aushadhi pathology centres to block level

Private diagnostic players' business has been hit due to lockdown; open to PPP

Jan Aushadhi stores | Jan Aushadhi programme

Sohini Das  |  Mumbai 

Passengers board a special train for New Delhi at Bhubaneswar railway station, during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, Bhubaneswar
Passengers board a special train for New Delhi at Bhubaneswar railway station, during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, Bhubaneswar

As India plans to get pandemic-ready with its health infrastructure, the old plan of having pathology laboratories attached to Jan Aushadhi outlets (that dispense affordable and generic medicines) is likely to be revived.

The finance minister on Sunday said expenditure on health care infrastructure was to rise. She said the plan was to have district- and block-level public pathology labs.

A senior government official said one of the ideas being considered is to come up with government pathology labs attached to Jan Aushadhi centres.

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There was a plan to set up thousands of pathology labs under the Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana or Jan Aushadhi centres. This is being looked at again. Also, these new labs may come up through the public-private partnership (PPP) model,” the official said.

Meanwhile, private diagnostics players, who are reeling from the slowdown in business, say PPPs are a good option, but they come with riders. With the Covid-19 pandemic, India has been working on ramping up its diagnostic testing capacity. Ironically, the overall diagnostic business has seen a massive slump.

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“Metropolis Healthcare, for example, has over 3,000 collection centres shut. These are usually managed by franchises, and they have not been able to keep most of them open. The business is down to about 20 per cent of what we used to do in pre-pandemic days,” said Sushil Shah, chairman, Metropolis Healthcare. Most of this business is due to Covid-19 testing.

Similarly, Thyrocare Technologies, which is also conducting Covid-19 tests, said its non-Covid-19 volumes are down to about 1 per cent of usual volumes.

Non-Covid-19 business has plummeted to 1 per cent within the first three days of Lockdown 1.0,” said A Velumani, chairman, Thyrocare.

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These companies, however, are expecting business to crawl back with lockdown curbs easing. “We expect footfall to return in the next two-three months and it will get better in the subsequent quarter. But, with a pandemic, it is anybody’s guess now,” said the chief executive of a Delhi-based diagnostic chain.

For a PPP to have block-level diagnostic centres can be a good business opportunity for private players. However, most seem wary.

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“Scaling up to have pathology centres at the block level is not a tall task. However, most players are wary of government business as the payments are usually delayed and in the tender process, the contract goes to the lowest bidder,” said a Mumbai-based chain owner.

First Published: Mon, May 18 2020. 19:32 IST