The Centre will establish seventy new cancer facilities across the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged.
The Centre plans to erect twenty state cancer institutes and fifty tertiary cancer care centres, Modi said during a speech at the Adyar Cancer Institute in Chennai. There will be fourteen new oncology-focused All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Of the planned facilities, fifteen state cancer institutes and twenty tertiary cancer care centres have been approved so far.
Modi addressed India’s growing crisis of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in his speech. “NCDs now account for about sixty percent of total deaths in our country,” he noted. He attributed this to “changing lifestyles” and called for cooperation between the private sector and non-government organisations (NGOs) “to prevent, manage and control diseases such as cancer.”
The remarks also gave Modi an opportunity to tout his flagship health coverage scheme, Ayushman Bharat – also known as the National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) or ‘Modicare’. The NHPS will include a Comprehensive Primary Health Care provision, with the aim of providing both preventative and curative services at the primary level.
Modi also said ‘population-based prevention, control, screening and management’ programmes were being made available by his government. These will target a range of NCDs including cancer, hypertension and diabetes.
India, as with many lower middle-income countries, is facing an elevated burden of noncommunicable diseases. In 2016, NCDs are believed to have caused more than 5.8 million deaths in India. They are major causes of premature deaths in the country. Cancer, diabetes and heart disease alone account for 55 percent of premature deaths among 30-69 year-olds.
The issue is commonly associated with urban areas. However, NCDs are also blighting rural areas. There, one in five adults are hypertensive and one in twenty are diabetic. NCDs account for forty percent of rural India deaths – almost as many as communicable diseases, which account for 41 percent.
Compounding the issue is limited awareness and lacking public health infrastructure in rural India. This means many are forced to pay out-of-pocket for medical expenses. NCDs are often chronic in nature. As such, out-of-pocket spending on health is likely to rise in tandem with rising numbers of these conditions.
India is in the midst of an epidemiological shift in terms of its disease burden. Unless action is taken, this is posed to get much worse in years to come. The Prime Minister drawing attention to this crisis is a welcome move and may act as a stimulus for populations and organisations to act. However, Modi’s remarks must also serve as an imperative to his government which, through Ayushman Bharat, may finally be giving NCDs the attention they require.