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National mission of US is to cure cancer. What is ours?

Some may see it as a bit of an exaggeration to equate it to John F Kennedy's "Man on the moon" address to Congress where he committed to putting man on the moon, but the common element of a nation to pick one agenda and put all resources behind it can hardly be missed.

twitter-logo E Kumar Sharma        Last Updated: January 14, 2016  | 07:54 IST

E Kumar Sharma, Associate Editor
In his last "State of the Union address" on January 12, US President Barack Obama announced a new national effort to cure cancer. "Last year, Vice President Joe Biden said that, with a new moon-shot, America can cure cancer. Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they've had in over a decade." Adding: "I'm putting Joe in charge of mission control," he said, "let's make America the country that cures cancer once and for all."

Some may see it as a bit of an exaggeration to equate it to John F Kennedy's "Man on the moon" address to Congress where he committed to putting man on the moon, but the common element of a nation to pick one agenda and put all resources behind it can hardly be missed. This is despite the fact that cancer cure is a tough problem and research in this space has been on for decades. Also, Obama perhaps picked Biden for the task in the US, because of a personal loss that Biden suffered having lost his son to cancer.

Cancer is a big concern for India, too, and perhaps there is a case for India to also consider a similar approach and a zeal to deal with it. We can do it if we want to; it was shown with polio eradication, though it took India several years to get there. The problem of cancer is getting to be worrying.

The cancer drugs retail sales market in India is today valued at Rs 1,571 crore and is growing at the rate of 12.5 per cent per annum, according to AIOCD AWACS, which tracks domestic pharma retail sales in India. This makes it one of the big worries for India.

But in healthcare there are several other ailments too. All we need is a decision to select one as a national priority. Take diabetes, for instance. It is the biggest concern today. Anti-diabetes medicines market is the biggest in India - again going by the AIOCD AWACS data, domestic retail sales figure stands at Rs 7,759 crore. It is a market that is growing at the rate of 24.2 per cent per annum.

If not cancer or diabetes, can we pick health concerns like infant mortality or maternal - areas that surely have an emotional connect with a large population in India?

Health experts and thoughts leaders also feel it is time India picked one healthcare element as a mission and put all national resources behind it. "We need to pick one thing in India, get people enthused and have action happening and get it done. I wish we could do something dramatic and big in, say, child nutrition or on infant mortality," says Kiran Karnik, the former president of NASSCOM and a thinker and writer on matters of healthcare in India.

Karnik is, of course, referring to a concerted effort that spans from research at one end to final solution on the other end. We have written about this earlier in these columns about how India has fallen short of meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to the National Health Profile 2015 brought out by the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence, Directorate General of Health Services, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in 2015, the infant mortality rate that India touched is 40 deaths per 1,000 live births, missing the MDG target of 27 by a considerable margin.

Similarly, for maternal mortality ratio, India talks of 140 per 100,000 live births as against a goal of 109 under MDG. Now, under the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the goal is to get to less than 70 by 2030.

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