Health Communication at tipping point in India market says Rikki Jones, MD, GCI Health, Asia Pacific

The health sector in India is at a key inflexion point in India. While on the one hand, there is an overwhelming demand for basic health services, the country also offers cutting edge treatment options to those who can afford it. 

The Union Budget 2019, announced last week, provisioned for a rise in healthcare allocation by 18%, the biggest jump in two years for the sector. PM Narendra Modi has also committed to raising health spending to 2.5% of the GDP by 2025 from the current 1.15 %. 

With this backdrop, GCI Health, a WPP firm is looking to expand its services in the India market. It's Asia Pacific MD, Rikki Jones, spoke to PRmoment India on her first visit to India after she took over as managing director about what kind of health communication will matter for India and GCI Health's future plans in Asia. 

Health communication focus on patient empowerment

GCI Health, launched its services in India earlier this year, working with WPP PR firms present here. It now seeks to further expand its services for the Indian healthcare market.

Rikki Jones is bullish on the Indian healthcare communications market

 

Rikki Jones, says one of the key priorities for health communication in India is the empowerment of stakeholders in the health ecosystem, including patients and consumers. 

"Patients should not be passive participants in healthcare decisions," added Jones.

This is easier said than done in a country when patients often lack basic healthcare options. Gender and caste have a strong influence on the kind of quality of health service received by patients in India.  

Can health communication solve some of these challenges?

 Jones believes that customised and bespoke health communication which is very sensitive to the challenges faced by communities can help empower people. She says, "It's not a one size fits all solution."

Sharing the example of recent work done in India for diabetes advocacy, Jones said that GCI Health worked with communities, sharing information and tips on staying healthy as a diabetic during prolonged periods of fasting.

Elaborating on how health communication was approached for this Jones said that rather than focusing on just eating dos' and don'ts', advocacy experts first interacted with community institutions to understand the experience of fasting and then shared healthy tips for people on a fast.

Another example of customised health communication is around the issue of vaccination. In India, there has been mistrust of the polio vaccine as well as the pentavalent vaccine. Internationally, celebrity 'anti-vaxxers' have fueled unfounded fears of vaccination causing autism. Health experts maintain that the recent outbreak of Measles in the US is a result of avoiding vaccination.

Jones suggests working with communities of the high-risk population to understand opposition to vaccination. She says human centred health communication is what would work. Jones points to the existence of global patient panels to gain insights on what patients need. She cites Takeda Pharmaceuticals, one of the world's top 20 pharma firms, as an example of being strongly human and patient-focused in their approach.

Future India and Asia Plans, GCI Health 

India has a strong regulatory environment for pharmaceuticals, companies cannot advertise medicines or medical equipment. This leaves space for public relations firms to offer health communication services for healthcare firms in India. This along with the government's health insurance and clean water focus in Modi 2.0 means a thriving environment for meaningful health communication.

Additionally, mandatory spending on CSR activities is likely to lead to more investment in health projects. Commenting on how CSR is driving health communication, she said," CSR is the price for entry in the healthcare sector."

Jones told PRmoment India that while they cannot share numbers on growth targets she believes India offers significant growth opportunities. She also added that GCI Health has active plans to enter the Hong Kong and Japan market soon.

In India, GCI Health is offering communication a range of services through Genesis BCW including market access communication, Life Sciences communication and strategic consulting for management teams at healthcare firms to better purpose their communication.