PMJAY beneficiaries will be able to avail a more comprehensive package of cancer treatment under Ayushman Bharat.
“Treatment for cancer is very expensive. We want to include treatment for all [types] of cancer in our health packages which are cost-effective, proven and beneficial to the patients,” said Dr Indu Bhushan, CEO of the National Health Authority. An NHA official told The Economic Times that “There are some missing links in the treatment of cancer and it [is] not very comprehensive. Hence, we have just recommended further strengthening of the medical packages for cancer. This has to be approved by the governing body and the entire process is likely to take three months.”
The initiative comes as a boon for the 2.25 million Indians living with cancer, who are frequently underserved when it comes to treatment. India is currently home to the third largest burden of cancer in the world, behind the United States and China. The disease ranks as the country’s second leading cause of death, behind heart disease.
In the coming years, the cancer burden in India is anticipated to increase significantly. By 2040, between 1.1 and 1.5 million Indians with cancer are anticipated to require chemotherapy. Concerningly, the cancer burden in India is projected to grow in states least economically enabled of managing it, with the Empowered Action Group (EAG) states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh to bear the brunt.
Major infrastructural gaps frustrate efforts to tackle the disease, with shortages of specialists and lack of dedicated facilities plaguing the country. According to one study, India fails 83 percent of its cancer patients when it comes to treatment. By 2020, it is expected that the country will need 5,000 oncologists to meet demand (by 2040, this will increase to 7,300) and as many as 550 dedicated cancer centres. At present, there is a shortage of both with just over sixty cancer centres to service the nation.
With the number of cases growing, it is no doubt fortunate that Ayushman Bharat will provide an expanded package of cancer treatments for economically vulnerable patients. At present, out-of-pocket spending accounts for approximately three quarters of the total expenditure on cancer in India. Covering beneficiaries under Ayushman Bharat to avail treatment could go some way towards mitigating this. However, improvements to the cancer treatment infrastructure and workforce in India must also be effected to cope with growing demand.