Covid clearly has dramatically impacted, in a largely negative way, economic activity across India. We have seen literally every sector (including Healthcare, where I am actively involved with startups) get blindsided by the sudden and ravaging impacts of the pandemic. However, true to the saying, every cloud has a silver lining, and in every crisis lies an opportunity. Healthtech startups have a seminal opportunity in aiding and facilitating the vaccination drive in India. Plenty of opportunities will be in healthcare IT, logistics, connecting various datasets, social networks for trusted information sharing, and in areas related to these.
IT systems (and accompanying apps) will play a central role in creating and maintaining information related to vaccinations: enlisting and enumerating people for vaccination, keeping track of the progression of dose intake during the process, as well as using national IDs like PAN and Aadhar to uniquely identify individuals and their participation drive. This, firstly, will ensure, that priority doses are delivered to the most vulnerable and critical sections of the population. Second, combined with mapping applications (and the policies around these have been greatly liberalized as I write this piece), startups will ensure that a coordinated vaccination campaign will harmonize the needs of herd immunity with geospatial data; and will further, through the use of data interfaces and connectors, will synchronize with information on people with co-morbid conditions and other data pertinent to assessing the risk to Covid.
IT could play a very important role in ensuring the genuineness of vaccines and quickly detecting and flagging counterfeit. This could easily span the entire gamut of the security apparatus: detecting counterfeits, preventing their use in patients, helping track the source of aberrant activity, and using social media as well as traditional news sources to alert the larger population to the dangers posed by fraudulent doses.
Startups can also play a central role in fine-tuning the logistics inherent in the seamless delivery of vaccinations across the country. The logistics space in India has undergone tremendous innovation on account of businesses widely adopting deep technology tools to address transport challenges. A much-quoted Economic Survey predicts this logistics space to grow to a staggering $215 Billion by 2020. The IP and best practices built as a result of the growth in this space can easily be leveraged to ensure seamless and efficient delivery of vaccinations to every nook and corner of India in a timely manner. Layers of AI/ML could predict when vaccines would run out of a certain center, city, or state and reinforcements could be ordered in a timely fashion.
Startups can, and most likely will, help engender a lot of social and information sharing activity as the vaccination drive begins in full gusto. They will help create trusted communities of people with similar demographics, those in the same geography or those with affinities, for example, people with similar co-morbid conditions. These forums will be used to discuss the vaccination experience, after effects, opinions on facilities and the actual process, and more. Best practices on the vaccination process and how to deal with the various aftermaths will get documented, opined on, shared, and socialized within the larger ecosystem.
The aggregation of all the above data points, opinions, and progress charts will give the government a treasure trove of timely, granular, searchable, and actionable data that could be utilized to effectuate the entire vaccination drive in an idealized fashion. The government can make instant and accurate decisions on which vaccines to order, to administer vaccines that are imported versus homegrown, where they should be shipped, and what the optimal logistical details would be. Important decisions on whether the drive should continue in the current “nationalized” fashion versus through public/private partnerships could be made in a very quick time; thereby introducing newer efficiencies into the broader process. Acting on this vast dataset, governments could quickly create newer vaccination centers in the most needed areas and redirect resources-both financial and personnel – to address the needs of more vulnerable sections of the population. All in all, the vaccination drive could unleash the oft-desired animal spirits in startup India, albeit with a distinctly nationalistic and social tone. A spirit that could catalyze the entire nation into a converging goal of universal immunity.
Devang Mehta is the Partner at Anthill Ventures. Views expressed are the author’s own.