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Cancer, a blight to both public health and the economy

Cancer cost India nearly $6.7 billion in lost productivity in 2012, a new study claims. This points towards the immense cost of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) not only to public health in the country, but to the economy.

The total productivity loss in 2012 equated to 0.36 percent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to the study published in the Journal of Cancer Epidemiology. This equals just over a quarter of India’s current spending on public health provision, which is currently estimated to be around 1.4 percent of GDP.

Cancer is not even the most common cause of death from NCDs within India. Heart disease accounts for 28.1 percent of all deaths occurring in India, the single most common cause of death in the country overall. By comparison, cancer accounts for 8.3 percent of deaths.

Future assessments of the economic impact of other NCDs will probably  find that heart disease and diabetes also have considerable impacts on productivity, causing great financial loss. In the case of heart disease, due to its prevalence and the increasingly young age at which it is causing disability and death, the impact may be colossal.

India is not alone in the productivity loss due to premature deaths. The study indicated that across the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations, there are severe issues with premature deaths due to cancers. India was the second most affected, with South Africa taking the largest hit to its economy, estimated to be around 0.49 percent of its GDP.

It is estimated that around 60 percent of all cases of cancer in India are either treatable or preventable. However, treatment is often left far too late as India lacks nationwide screening programmes for many of the most common forms of cancer, such as cervical and breast cancer. In a nation of over a billion people, the logistics of implementing such a large scale screening process are complex.

For many, a lack of access to healthcare facilities makes regular check ups an impossibility. Compounding this is the common mindset that if no noticeable symptoms are present, there is no need to seek medical attention.  Many cancer cases do not present with symptoms until the late stages. At this point the cancer may have spread, significantly reducing survival rate.

Currently in India, lifestyle choices are playing a large role in the increase in cancer rates. An estimated 40 percent of cancers in India are thought to have been brought about by smoking. Reducing rates of tobacco consumption could drastically bring down the rate of cancer. The government is now pursues a stringent programme of tobacco control, incorporating higher taxes on tobacco products and large health warnings, covering 85 percent of the display area on packaging.

Sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy eating habits are another major contributor to the rise of cancer. Alterations to lifestyle habits could be an effective preventative measure. It is vital for information to be widely available to the public discussing the risks of unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol and excessive consumption of processed food. Where cancer is concerned, prevention is far more effective than treatment.


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