Frontlist | Medical crowdfunding has emerged as an alternate method of financing healthcare: Irfan Bashir

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In India, where healthcare finance is a cause of concern, medical crowdfunding has become a primary source of financial aid, especially in cases of medical emergencies. At a fundamental level, medical crowdfunding seeks to turn the crowd’s financial power into a safety net for those whom the public and private healthcare systems fail to support.

Shahid Akhter, the editor, ETHealthworld, spoke to Irfan Bashir, co-author of the book ‘Crowdfunding: The Story of People’, to know more about the booming medical crowdfunding industry in India and how it is shaping healthcare in India. Irfan’s book is the first book to explore the social impact and potential of crowdfunding in India.

How has Crowdfunding influenced and impacted Healthcare in India?
The greatest need for crowdfunding manifests in the lives of millions of sick people, especially in developing countries. According to a 2018 study published in the British Medical Journal in India by the Public Health Foundation of India, out-of-pocket (OOP) healthcare expenses drove 38 million Indians into poverty in 2011-2012.

Countless innocent lives that could otherwise be saved are lost because people can’t afford their treatments. While universal access to healthcare would solve this problem, unfortunately, we are far from that goal. At the same time, Medical crowdfunding has emerged as an alternate method of financing healthcare. In India, where healthcare finance is a cause of concern, medical crowdfunding has become a primary source of financial aid, especially in cases of medical emergencies. For instance, Milaap, one of India’s top crowdfunding platforms, raised over Rs 160 crores for healthcare-related campaigns in 2020. Medical crowdfunding in India has helped fund thousands of liver transplants, heart surgeries, cancer treatments, kidney transplants, and NICU treatments. And in many ways, medical crowdfunding has acted as a bandage to patch the gaps that make healthcare in India inaccessible or unaffordable for a lot of people.

What role did Online Crowdfunding play during the Covid pandemic?
In India, thousands of NGOs collaborated with online crowdfunding platforms to raise funds during the pandemic. Milaap, one of India’s oldest crowdfunding platforms, raised over Rs 100 crores (1 billion) with the help of 250,000+ donors for over 10,000 campaigns. Ketto’s microsite dedicated to COVID-19 relief also raised over Rs 100 crores for 4,200 campaigns with the support of 120,000+ donors. Similarly, GiveIndia, an online donation platform, raised Rs 120 crores with the help of 350,000+ donors and 60+ CSR partners to help over 200 NGOs fight the pandemic.

There was also a dire shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits in hospitals in India during the pandemic. One of the most successful initiatives to combat the shortage was started by Milaap and The Pravin Agarwal Foundation (TPAF), which addressed the huge demand and supply gap of PPEs across the country by identifying the need at the unitary level.

What are the fundraising volumes for Medical Crowdfunding in India over the last five years?
Every year millions of people start crowdfunding campaigns to fund their medical expenses. This makes medical crowdfunding one of the most popular donation-based crowdfunding categories, with 27% of crowdfunding campaigns worldwide being initiated to cover medical expenses.

While it’s hard to estimate the overall fundraising volumes, we can get a fair idea if we look at the numbers from India’s top two crowdfunding platforms Ketto and Milaap. Together, these platforms raised over Rs 1,000 crore for healthcare-related campaigns in the last five years, with a growth rate that doubles almost every year. Over 1,200 medical campaigns are started on Milaap every month, with a 3x growth per year on average. Ketto, on the other hand, hosts around 2,000 medical fundraisers per month and has seen a 50% Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) in the last five years. So, all in all, we can say that the medical crowdfunding industry in India is a booming industry, and its growth is bound to proliferate in the future.

Your book on crowdfunding envisions the crowd as future change-makers. How do you see this happening in healthcare?
When I was pursuing my Bachelor’s in Quantitative Economics and Econometric Analysis from the University of Rochester in New York, I had the opportunity to witness first-hand how crowdfunding was at the forefront of empowering socio-political and economic change in the US. Candidates like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez crowdfunded millions of dollars to run their campaigns. Entrepreneurs raised thousands of dollars for their revolutionary products. This intrigue stayed with me.

When I came back to India and started working as a Strategist for Ketto, I saw that donation-based crowdfunding was used by so many people to fund their medical treatments or raise money to help their communities. Seeing the tremendous potential of crowdfunding was inspiring, so together with my colleague Ravina Banze, I decided to write ‘Crowdfunding: The Story of People’, the first book on the social potential and impact of crowdfunding in India. One of the major themes in our book is the tremendous power of the crowd when it converges behind a cause. Throughout history, we can see instances where the crowd, the people, have started revolutions, created entire civilizations, and achieved impossible feats. Crowdfunding, by its nature, taps into the power of the crowd.

Is Medical Crowdfunding an antithesis to Universal Healthcare?
Lack of health insurance coverage, poverty, gaps in the healthcare system, absence of proper social safety-nets, and rising medical costs are among many reasons that have led to the growing significance of medical crowdfunding. At a fundamental level, medical crowdfunding seeks to turn the crowd’s financial power into a safety net for those whom the public and private healthcare systems fail to support. It is a quick and often effective funding mechanism, offering people the opportunity of providing financial assistance to those in need with just a few clicks. But it’s not a replacement or antithesis to Universal Healthcare.

The point is we as a society are far from achieving a perfect Universal Healthcare system. Even in countries where public healthcare is free, like Canada, we observe that people are still opting for medical crowdfunding due to long waiting periods at public hospitals. For people in need of urgent medical attention, the long waiting period can be fatal. The only option they have is to opt for private hospitals where the treatment is relatively more expensive. That’s when crowdfunding can be used by people to fund their treatments.

What can we expect in the future for the global online crowdfunding industry?
Currently, the world is on the verge of creating a trillion-dollar crowdfunding market. In the future, the major drivers of the crowdfunding market will be artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain technology, improved internet access, and the proliferation of social media platforms. As technology allows for better access, efficiency, and transparency, platforms will benefit from strong network effects. The value of the platforms and the industry will be enhanced as the number of campaigns and contributors grows. Such a cycle would lead to a large number of consumers and investors participating in the crowdfunding market.

This exponential growth of the crowdfunding industry has not gone unnoticed. In its Future of Finance report, Goldman Sachs, one of the biggest multinational investment banks globally, remarked that crowdfunding was one of the most disruptive emerging finance models. The report estimated that crowdfunding could address a $1.2 trillion opportunity over time.

 

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Source: Economic Times

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