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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

Mar 02, 2024

Time to make Cancer a Notifiable Disease: FICCI Roundtable



BHUBANESWAR, 02 March 2024: 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.


Ms Kaushal emphasized the need for early diagnosis. "Our focus must shift towards detecting cancer in its preliminary stages,” she added. The need of the hour should also be on data assimilation, overcoming the inertia due to a lack of manpower and promoting incubation for technicians are critical areas requiring attention, underscored Ms Kaushal.


She added that innovation in oncology, particularly ensuring the latest treatment molecules are accessible to the population, remains a priority. The government acknowledges the necessity of collaborative efforts to scale successful models, such as the Tata Medical Centre's outreach, to deliver cancer treatment to the most remote areas. “I hope the Roundtable will be a call for action and will help us further strategize for tackling cancer care in India effectively,” added Ms Kaushal.


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.


Ms Srimayee Chakraborty, Partner, Healthcare Services, EY Parthenon, shed light on the critical gaps in cancer care infrastructure and services, particularly in Eastern India. "We're witnessing a critical disparity in access to cancer care in Eastern and North-Eastern India, despite the concerning rise in tobacco and alcohol consumption rates. The Cancer Care report by EY and FICCI sheds light on the stark reality: only 9 per cent of comprehensive cancer centers cater to 23 per cent of the population in the region. Urgent action is imperative to bridge this alarming gap.”


She also highlighted that India's cancer burden, ranking third globally after China and the US, presents a grim reality, with distinct patterns in male and female cancer prevalence. Males primarily suffer from head and neck, lung, and gastrointestinal cancers, while females are majorly affected by breast, cervix, and uterine cancers. Alarmingly, the incidence of head and neck cancer is escalating to 23 per cent.


Dr Bishnu Panigrahi, Chair of the Task Force on Healthcare Costing under the FICCI HS Committee, emphasized the urgent need for a shift in the approach to cancer screening and treatment in India. Highlighting the critical importance of cancer screening, Dr Panigrahi called for it to be significantly expanded and made a major focus of healthcare efforts.

"The time has come to make cancer a notifiable disease, given its impact on society and the economy," he stated, advocating for a more proactive and preventive approach to cancer care.


Prof (Brig) Ambika Prasad Mohanty, VSM, Dean & Principal, KIMS, emphasized the institution's commitment to making cancer care both affordable and accessible. “There is awareness, and we need to take it ahead,” he said.


Mr Ashok Kumar Das, DG of KIMS Super Specialty Centre, called for improvements in nurse training and acknowledged the extensive trauma families endure. He urged a mission-mode approach to cancer treatment, emphasizing the need to prioritize patient care over revenue considerations. Das also highlighted the gaps in government schemes that require attention to enhance the efficacy of cancer care delivery.


The FICCI Roundtable, held at KIIT Campus, Bhubaneshwar, on March 1st, 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.


One of the key partners for the Cancer Task Force, Ms Malti Sachdev, Sr Managing Director, Varian, shared, “Usually 50-60 per cent of cancer patients need radiotherapy during treatment. However, in India less than 20 per cent are able to access it due to various infrastructural gaps, which need to be filled through partnerships”.  She also emphasised that the entire cancer management has to be seen comprehensively, with an end-to-end approach from treatment to follow-ups.


Dr Ishan Patel, Category Medical Lead, Oncology, Pfizer India added that “we need to ensure that the entire continuum of care of the patients is covered. All aspects including efficacy- people living longer, as well quality of life of patients is important. Cancer treatment has high OPE hence new treatment modules should be covered under health insurance to make them affordable for the patients.

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.