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  • Cancer’s devastation on patients and families is unparalleled; Focus should be on early-stage detection: Joint Secretary, MoH&FW, GoI

    Published on March 3, 2024

    BHUBANESWAR: Ms Indrani KaushalJoint Secretary of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt of India yesterday highlighted the critical challenges and the government’s concerted efforts to combat cancer. Addressing the ‘FICCI Roundtable for Eastern Region’, held under the aegis of Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, GoI, on the ‘Road Map for Making Cancer Care Affordable and Accessible in India’, Ms Kaushal said the government is seized of the enormity of the situation, citing the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) study that has projected 15.33 lakh new cancer cases per year and a mortality rate of approximately 8 lakh per year. Odisha, she said, is among the top 12 states that have been contributing to the cancer incidence tally of the country.

    Dr Susanta Swain Additional Director – Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD), Government of Odisha, addressed critical gaps in the current cancer care framework and outlined the state’s approach to improving outcomes for cancer patients. He underscored the urgent need for broader diagnostic facilities, pointing out the stark statistics in Odisha, where annual cancer deaths are approximately 16,000, and the prevalence of cancer stands at over one lakh cases. “Our diagnostic capabilities need to be more broad-based. Currently, this is a significant gap in our healthcare system,” he stated. Dr Swain also highlighted the essential requirement for minimum cancer care facilities, including diagnostics, at district hospitals as well as the need for increasing oncologists in the region.

    Mr Raj Gore, Co-lead, FICCI Task Force on Cancer Care and CEO, Healthcare Global Enterprises Limited (HCG) highlighted the acute shortage of comprehensive cancer care centres in India, with less than 30 per cent districts in India having access to such facilities. This gap significantly impacts the treatment accessibility as well as affordability for cancer patients due to increased out of pocket expense on account of additional travel and accommodation costs and loss of income for many. “Our task is cut out, and the magnitude of the problem is far greater than many realize,” stated Mr Gore, referring to the stark comparison that the death toll from cancer last year alone was 1.5 times more than that of COVID-19 patients till date.

    The formation of the FICCI Task Force on Cancer Care represents a concerted effort to tackle these challenges head-on. “Our focus should not only be on raising awareness and prevention but also on ensuring better patient outcomes through timely and complete treatment of patients. This encompasses improving access to comprehensive cancer care centres and mitigating the additional financial burden on patients and their families,” added Mr Gore.

    The FICCI Roundtable was attended by more than 40 stakeholders from multiple states, including senior clinicians and administrators, senior representatives of hospitals, medtech and pharma companies. It was supported by KIMS Hospital & Medical College, Bhubaneshwar, Varian as well as Pfizer, with EY as the Knowledge Partner. This was the third such Regional Roundtable organised by FICCI, earlier ones held in Gandhinagar and Bengaluru last year. The recommendations from each Roundtable are submitted to the Health Ministry for consideration.

    Key Take Aways

    • ICMR study has projected 15.33 lakh new cancer cases per year and a mortality rate of approximately 8 lakh per year.
    • Odisha is among the top 12 states that have been contributing to the cancer incidence- with a death rate of 70.6 per cent and annual cancer incidences between 55,000 to 60,000.
    • Eastern regions, notably Mizoram and Assam, exhibit higher cancer cases than the national average, underscoring the unique regional challenges.
    • 85 per cent of districts in the four Eastern states lack comprehensive cancer care centres.
    • Only 20% cancer patients in India are able to access radiotherapy, which is an important treatment tool
    • Lifestyle changes are imperative in the fight against cancer given the role of obesity in various cancer types.
    • A holistic approach to treatment, integrating various aspects of healthcare to provide comprehensive care to patients is crucial, with end-to-end approach.
    • Cancer should be made a notifiable disease so that accurate incidence and effective follow up can be assured.
    • Focus must shift towards early detection of cancer with enhanced diagnostics capacities across states- including laboratory and radiology testing.
    • Enhancing manpower training including technicians as well as Oncologists at the specialist level, especially in the peripheral areas.
    • Prevention and awareness at the grassroots level need to be enhanced along with implementing teaching programs for Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs) and ensuring district hospitals are equipped with necessary diagnostic tools like endoscopes and HPV screening facilities.
    • A mission-mode approach to cancer treatment is needed by prioritizing patient care over revenue considerations at facilities.
    • Innovation in oncology and ensuring the latest treatment molecules are accessible to the population.
    • Innovative and successful models of care delivery like Tata Medical Centre need to be scaled up for reaching the last mile.
    • Public-private partnerships need to be enhanced in the cancer care ecosystem.
    • Cost burden on cancer patients is very high, new treatment modules should be covered under health insurance to make them affordable for the patients

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