MUMBAI: Cancer continues to remain a health concern in the Asia-Pacific, with its incidence expected to increase by 35%, and mortality rising by nearly 40%, found a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Among the 10 countries examined for preparedness by the report, India ranks a low eighth.
The report, sponsored by drug company Roche, examines cancer preparedness and complexities of disease challenge in 10 countries: Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
Even as India continues to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, it is weak when it comes to cancer preparedness, with an overall score of 51.6 (out of 100), below the regional average of 66.5%, just above Vietnam and Philippines.
Others in the ‘Index of Cancer Preparedness’, like Australia (92.4), South Korea (83.4) and Malaysia (80.3), lead the region. With the cancer burden in Asia-Pacific reaching an estimated 8.8 million cases in 2018, the Index looks at different responses to disease challenge, and essential elements needed to enhance preparedness in the region.
While India is recognised for its progress in tobacco regulation, further progress can be made as the country records below-average scores across all three pillars in the Index: policy & planning, care delivery and health system, and governance, it adds.
Dr CS Pramesh, director of Tata Memorial Hospital and coordinator for the National Cancer Grid, said, “I do agree that there is work to be done to improve overall access to cancer care and demonstrate cancer preparedness in India. However, I would take this report with a pinch of salt. Any score or index which summarizes a topic as vast as ‘national cancer preparedness’ to a single score is fraught with problems. Cancer preparedness or access is far too nuanced to be reduced to a number”.
The EIU research adds that India faces challenges in developing comprehensive cancer control plans and expanding its immunisation and cancer screening programmes because of its vast population. Like other lower-middle-income countries, India should focus on closing persistent access gaps and ensuring quality of services across the cancer continuum through better infrastructure and service supply, while prioritising on a healthy lifestyle promotion.
Further, the research found the obvious strong association between income level and overall cancer preparedness, that high-income countries with established healthcare infrastructure outperform upper-and lower-middle income countries. A strong correlation was also seen between the overall score in the Index and cancer control outcomes as measured by ratio of mortality to cancer incidence in countries. This demonstrates that, in broad terms, better preparedness to manage the cancer burden equates achieving better cancer outcomes.
Given that as many as 70% of cancer cases in low and middle-income countries are diagnosed at a late stage, an emphasis on preventive services and moving from opportunistic to population-based screening is needed.