How some Indian hospitals are cutting cancer drug costs

How some Indian hospitals are cutting cancer drug costs By Fathimath Nasli - January 10, 2024
How some Indian hospitals are cutting cancer drug costs

Oncologist Dr. Ravi Kannan in charge of overseeing the operations at Cachar Cancer Hospital

In a cancer hospital located in Silchar, northeastern India, a surge in patient numbers has been observed due to a transformative approach aimed at making cancer drugs more affordable.

The Cachar Cancer Centre, part of the National Cancer Grid, collaborates with other treatment centers to collectively purchase drugs, resulting in an over 85% reduction in costs. While this is a modest beginning, it has proven to be a crucial lifeline for some of the country's poorest individuals who often face financial hardships or find cancer treatments financially inaccessible.

Long and expensive cancer treatments frequently impose significant financial strains on families, making them difficult to afford. For instance, breast cancer treatments, which may extend over ten cycles, can cost over $6,000, an amount surpassing the average monthly salary in India, which is less than $700.

The National Cancer Grid initiative has made significant strides in making these essential drugs available at a fraction of the cost, offering relief to patients like Baby Nandi, who previously had to travel long distances for treatment, incurring substantial expenses.

With nearly two million reported cancer cases annually in India, the actual figures may be much higher, posing a considerable healthcare challenge. Many Indians must personally finance their healthcare, and even those with insurance or government schemes often find cancer care costs inadequately covered. 

The initiative not only addresses the financial burden but also tackles the geographical challenge, as most cancer patients reside in smaller towns and rural areas, necessitating extensive travel for treatment.

Cachar Cancer Hospital, facing a budget deficit due to the high number of patients it serves, treats thousands annually and manages ongoing treatment for tens of thousands, primarily low-income individuals. 

The initiative to reduce cancer drug prices has enabled the hospital to purchase quality medicines, provide free treatment to more patients, and avoid shortages of drugs in smaller towns.

Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, the country's largest cancer center, spearheads the bulk-buying initiative, initially covering 40 common off-patent generic drugs, resulting in substantial savings. 

The success of the program has garnered interest from hospitals and state governments nationwide, with plans to expand the list of drugs and consider broader cancer care purchases. However, more expensive patented treatments are currently not part of the initiative.

Dr. C S Pramesh, Director of Tata Memorial Hospital and Convenor of the National Cancer Grid, emphasizes the need for pharmaceutical companies to understand the importance of reducing costs in markets like India, where achieving high volumes is crucial. With a significant proportion of global cancer deaths projected in lower and middle-income countries, initiatives like the National Cancer Grid could play a vital role in assisting patients worldwide.

Source: BBC

By Fathimath Nasli - January 10, 2024

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