In an effort to combat the rising incidence of cancer in Karnataka, the state government, along with the Bengaluru Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), has announced a Cancer Task Force.
Recent data show an 80 percent rise in cancers among those below 50 years in Karnataka, as well as increased death and morbidity.
On Friday, 15 September, Minister for Health Gundu Rao, Dr L Swasticharan of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Karnataka Speaker UT Khader, and officials of the state Health Department released the Bengaluru Declaration on Cancer while chairing a round table meeting of the FICCI task force on the disease.
“The increasing cancer cases is a worrying fact. Cancer is one of the deadliest diseases adversely affecting both patients and their families, as they not only undergo financial repercussions because of the expensive treatment but psychological as well. This is something that needs to be looked into on priority,” Gundu Rao noted.
The 60-member task force includes oncologists, cancer care providers, senior clinicians, MedTech and pharma companies, and civil society organisations.
Speaking to South First, Commissioner, Department of Health and Family Welfare, Dr Randeep D said: “Accessibility and affordability are the two important aspects of cancer care. Keeping this in focus FICCI has come up with a task force involving all stakeholders. We will be together working out an action plan to meet the two key aspects.”
What will the task force do?
The ‘Bengaluru FICCI Cancer Task Force Declaration’, unveiled on Friday, outlines a roadmap with ambitious targets aimed at significantly reducing cancer-related deaths and enhancing the overall quality of life for affected individuals.
“Reported cancer incidence in 2022 is estimated to be 19 to 20 lakh, whereas real incidence is estimated to be 1.5 to three times higher than the reported cases. Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are among top five states with one of highest overall crude incidence rate of cancer above the all-India average of 122 cases per lakh population,” renowned head and neck oncologist Dr US Vishal Rao told South First.
The Karnataka government’s achievements in cancer control is laudable. It was one of the first states to establish a Cancer Committee, has declared cancer as a notifiable disease, has created a comprehensive, hospital-based cancer registry, has a high-powered committee for tobacco control, and has even set up a paediatric oncology ICU caters to children suffering from cancer.
The role of the task force will also be to fill gaps, explained Dr Vishal Rao.
The state has launched the Suvarna Arogya Suraksha (SAST), a health insurance scheme that covers the cost of cancer treatment for below poverty line (BPL) and above poverty line (APL) families. SAST has empanelled 176 hospital across state to provide cashless treatment to various type of cancers.
Enhancing treatment accessibility
“The treatment options are available, but awareness and how to avail these is low due to which treatment of cancer pushes affected individuals and families into poverty. Thus, our aim is to explore methods of enhancing treatment accessibility and affordability,” said Dr Randeep.
“It’s essential to reconsider the distribution of treatment centres, emphasising the importance of not only having numerous facilities in major cities like Bengaluru, but also the establishment of district-level cancer-care facilities. These need not be extensive structures, but they should provide a range of accessible and affordable treatment options,” he added.
The officials explained that to implement some of the initiatives and plans drawn in Friday’s meeting does not need huge buildings, infrastructure, or money — but just few policy decisions.
The task force will lay out a comprehensive set of objectives with a primary goal of significantly reducing premature deaths resulting from cancer, while simultaneously improving cancer survival rates and enhancing the quality of life for patients.
2028 set as target
Among the key targets set for achievement by 2028 are strengthening primary health systems to facilitate early detection and prevention of cancer, enhancing hospital and population-based cancer registries, surveillance systems to measure the cancer burden, and implementing population-based screening and early detection programmes.
Members of the task force emphasised the need to reduce cancer-risk factors, including tobacco consumption, obesity, unhealthy dietary habits, alcohol intake, and physical inactivity. They also underscored the importance of raising public and professional awareness about cancer warning signs and symptoms.
Moreover, they said that they will prioritise improving access to accurate cancer diagnosis, quality treatment, rehabilitation, palliative care services, and affordable essential medicines and technologies across the state. Pain control and distress management services are identified as crucial components in comprehensive cancer-care services.
“The basic idea is to not burden the cancer hospital in major cities but ensure district hospitals also have cancer-care facilities. I have suggested to the task force to see if we can implement a decentralised hub-and-spoke model for cancer care and adopt a tiered approach to radiotherapy treatment. Similar models have been a success in cardiac care at Jayadeva hospital and neurological care in Nimhans,” explained Randeep.
In a bid to address the role of infections in cancer, the stakeholders advocated for vaccination programmes against Human papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) to mitigate their impact in cancer patients.
The Bengaluru FICCI Cancer Task Force also stressed on combating the stigma associated with cancer through mass media campaigns, and dispelling myths and misconceptions surrounding the disease. It underscored the need to provide innovative education and training opportunities for healthcare professionals to enhance the overall cancer control infrastructure in the state.
The stakeholders are expected to meet again with a detailed plan to meet the goals set for 2028.
“We all need to collaborate to enhance early detection and screening by bringing cancer diagnosis to doorsteps, both in urban and rural areas,” Minister Gundu Rao said.
Key recommendations of the Cancer Task Force
Implement a decentralised hub-and-spoke model for cancer care and adopt a tiered approach to radiotherapy treatment.
Streamline project approval and fund disbursement processes across central and state governments for expedited implementation.
Enforce the establishment of oncology programs and dedicated radiotherapy departments in all public and private medical colleges, as well as seven district hospitals.
Formulate and implement a comprehensive policy framework for palliative care services.
Adjust the reimbursement limit for cancer care within the government, ensuring flexibility to accommodate various needs.
Standardise reimbursement rates uniformly across all state government schemes and PMJAY, following a structured approach that prioritizes a consistent standard of care and planning.
Assess the possibility of extending PMJAY scheme coverage to encompass the middle-class population.