CEO Avani Singh says that this would be done without compromising on quality.
New Delhi: SpiceJet’s new subsidiary company, SpiceHealth, aims to provide one of the cheapest and affordable healthcare services in the country. Last week, SpiceHealth launched one of the cheapest RT-PCR testing facilities for Covid-19 in the country through a mobile laboratory where the cost of such a test would be just Rs 499.
On the backdrop of this development, The Sunday Guardian spoke to the CEO of SpiceHealth, Avani Singh, who is also the daughter of SpiceJet’s Managing Director, Ajay Singh, on the idea behind launching SpiceHealth and what would be their future plans, including the role it would play in the immunization programme against Covid-19 which is expected to be launched in the next two to three months. Excerpts:
Q: You come from a family of airlines, with your father being the Managing Director of the second biggest airline of India, the SpiceJet. So what has been the idea behind you launching a health subsidiary under the name SpiceHealth?
A: After my studies, while I was working as a consultant with McKinsey, there was so much going on in our country with regards to the Covid-19 cases. There was a spike in cases every day and I just felt that there was an opportunity here to make more of a difference than to work in a company. And that’s kind of how I got involved with this idea of RT-PCR test.
The need for developing a low-cost RT-PCR test also came after meeting a lot of state governments, where it was very clear that the demand for RT-PCR test was so high and the supply was just not enough; moreover, the cost for the test was a big sour point for Indians. So I thought something could really have been done for this field and, therefore, I started exploring the idea of low cost RT-PCR testing and luckily this idea came on the table where we also had our technical partner GeneStore who came up and said that they sell these RT-PCR kits to labs and the cost is really not that high and they don’t understand why the cost of Covid-19 test is so high. So, I felt that this was something that could be explored further, that’s how I got involved with this.
Q: You have one of lowest RT-PCR test pricing in the country; many private laboratories are saying it is hurting them to reduce the price of the RT-PCR test. So how are you being able achieve this without compromising on quality?
A: A low-cost model was always what we had in mind since the Rs 2,400 price was really a sour point. After talking to our technical partner GeneStore, which is a French company certified by the European Union, we realised that the cost of these test kits is not that high. Eventually, it became quite clear that the cost for setting up infrastructure is also not high enough to justify the high price that were being charged from the citizens and that’s how we came to this low-cost model. From the onset, we were clear that though we would give out low-cost tests, we will not compromise on quality. For this, we had built the mobile laboratory from scratch. We have paid a lot of attention to the cost without compromising on quality. We are hiring manpower within SpiceHealth itself and, of course, since we have the backing of SpiceJet and the whole infrastructure to support us, we have ensured that quality is not compromised. Just like SpiceJet, while this model is low-cost, quality is not something we have compromised on. And the other one is through getting the test kits at a low-price and streamlining the end-to-end process to make sure that every aspect is low cost. Of course, for us at SpiceHealth, while we are into innovation, we are a non-profit organisation. Our focus it to make profit through a lot of testing and lot of cheap testing, rather than low testing and high prices.
Q: Currently, you have just one mobile laboratory in Delhi, so what are your plans for scaling up and spreading across other places in Delhi and to other cities?
A: We launched our first mobile laboratory a week ago in Delhi. Currently, it is functioning at the Azadpur Mandi and we are getting about 2,000 tests per day from that one mobile laboratory. We already have two more certified and ready to be deployed in Delhi. Then, there are two more coming up within the next day or two. Our goal is to reach 100 as soon as possible. We do hope to expand to other cities of the country as well. We are trying to scale up as quickly as possible. And that’s why we already have 10 to 15 laboratories in fabrication for which plans have already been made. We are also in talks with governments from around the country to scale this up.
Q: Which are the immediate cities that you are looking at?
A: We started with Delhi because the cases were spiking in Delhi and when we spoke to ICMR and the Delhi government, both said that they want the first 10 in Delhi and that’s how we came up in Delhi first. In the next round, we want to do Haryana and we are already in talks with the government there. Then, we will plan to scale up. A lot of state governments have approached us and it has become abundantly clear that the need is so high that state governments want us to open more mobile laboratories. We are ready and wherever we see the need is more, we will deploy these laboratories there.
Q: Vaccines are also about to be ready and rolled out in the next two to three months. Will we also see SpiceHealth actively participating in the immunization programme?
A: Certainly, that is the plan with SpiceHealth. The plan is for SpiceHealth to basically to come up with innovative things through which we can make a difference in the healthcare field. So, as of now, the immediate opportunity is the new innovative RT-PCR test. The natural next step is vaccination. We have already put in place structures to be able to deploy these vaccines in the remote parts of the country by using the mobile laboratories as well as drone services, along with SpiceJet, and we are already in talks with the government as well as ICMR to be able to deploy these. We know there are certain containers that are required to deploy these vaccines and all the infrastructure that is needed; so these preparations are already done at our end.
Q: From here on, what is the future of SpiceHealth?
A: Beyond vaccines as well, there is a lot of opportunity for SpiceHealth in this field. Studying infectious diseases to be able to diagnose and treat infectious diseases through mobile vans in the remote parts of the country so that patients don’t come to us, but we go to them, is something that we are working on. We are also in talks to be able to keep a genetic database of patients so that doctors are aware of the patient history without the patient having to tell the doctors what is wrong with them. We are doing a lot of innovative things using those mobile laboratories and other technologies to be able to get really involved in this healthcare field. At SpiceHealth, we are basically striving to maintain a low cost and high-quality model and to be able to reach as many Indians as possible and eventually to other parts of the world.