INDIA – The first-of-its-kind study on the ‘cost of illness analysis of oral cancer’, conducted by Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai, reveals that half of oral cancer patients in India die within a year of diagnosis and are aged between 30-50 years.

The study was conducted on 100 consecutive oral cancer patients who sought treatment at the facility between October 2019 and March 2020 and pointed out that most of the patients who receive some form of treatment are left unemployed hence they become an economic burden to their families.

This study also found out that a majority of those who succumb are lone earning members who leave behind families that struggle to survive long after they are gone.

In India, the annual cost of treating an oral cancer patient totals to around Rs 200 crore which equates to around US$ 18.5 million.

“This is just the hospital expense. Add to this the amount thousands of oral cancer patients spend on travelling and accommodation while seeking treatment at Tata Memorial or other hospitals across India. Also, since most oral cancer victims belong to the working population, there is also a big productivity loss happening every year,” said Pankaj Chaturvedi, surgeon, department of head and neck surgery at Tata Memorial Centre.

Through the study it was also noted that about 60-80% of oral cancer patents visit their specialist oncologists at advanced stage and this results in increased cost of treatment compared to if the disease was detected earlier.

Just in the year 2020, India spent approximately US$321.3 million in treating oral cancer patients through insurance scheme cover, government aide, private sector funding, out-of-pocket payments and charitable donations.

According to the study, this is a significant portion of the healthcare budget allocated by the government in the fiscal year 2020 towards a single disease and it is projected to cripple the country’s economy.

The state needs to find possible ways that can mitigate the looming crisis through policies and going heavy on investing on cancer-related research.

An applicable solution would be provision of a comprehensive healthcare cover under a government program that can provide affordable efficient cover to its population with perks that include regular cancer screenings because early detection strategies can lead to just 20% reduction in advanced stage disease that can save the country almost US$33.7million annually.

Currently, major government sponsored health insurance schemes that together cover 82 million government employees for reimbursement of cancer treatment in India, include, Central Government Health Service (CGHS), Employee State Insurance Scheme (ESIS), Retired Employees Liberalized Health Scheme (RELHS), railway health service and Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS).

Entitlements under above mentioned schemes are comprehensive and include reimbursement for primary, secondary and tertiary medical care including outpatient charges, medicines, special diagnostics and lab-based tests.

For the  less privileged population, central government funds Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) to insure 70 million Below Poverty Line (BPL) families for hospitalization related expenses of up to US$404.

Even though this is in the pipeline, India needs to further develop better schemes and policies to prevent cancer related deaths which is consuming the working class of the country.