About 16 lakh Indians are diagnosed with cancer every year, while 8 lakh people lose their life to the disease. A Parliamentary panel headed by former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh submitted a report this week, highlighting the need for better cancer care in India.
The panel’s report says that mortality incidence in India is a whopping 68%, compared to just 38% in developed countries. Cancer infrastructure in India is ‘highly inadequate’, forcing a majority of patients to travel thousands of kilometres in search of treatment. About 20% of deaths are due to system failures to address patient needs. The alarming numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. The National Health Profile, 2019, has more reasons for India to be concerned.
According to data released by the Centre, there was a 324% jump in the number of ‘common cancers’ between 2017 and 2018. While 39,635 cases were detected at NCD clinics in 2017, the number rose to a substantial 1.6 lakh cases in 2018. The growing cancer prevalence is also taking a toll on the economy and poverty alleviation schemes being introduced. Every year, six crore Indians are pushed below the poverty line because of the treatment costs associated with cancer. This is not surprising, considering how much our government spends on healthcare.
National Health Accounts estimates show over 60% of healthcare expenditure in India comes from the pockets of patients or their families. Government schemes, free treatments and health insurance together only cover the remaining 40%. In developed countries such as France, the government share is as high as 75%, and in China over 50%.
A major contributor to this rise in sporadic cancer cases has been environmental pollution. The toxic air we breathe in cities like Delhi and Chennai, the arsenic and other carcinogens in our water supply, pesticides in our food, unregulated antibiotics in poultry, etc., have had a major impact. Public health response in such circumstances cannot just focus on access to treatment. What is required is a comprehensive transition to a sustainable lifestyle.