India is not yet prepared to fight cancer despite the nation adding about a million new patients annually, warns a top healthcare expert.
"The number of cancer patients in India is rising alarmingly and from year 2020 onwards, the nation will add more than two million new cancer patients every year," R.K. Chaturvedi, adviser to metals and mining major Vedanta's cancer hospital project, told IANS in an interview.
He said the country is home to nearly three million cancer patients.
"In India people pay money to become a cancer patient," remarked the 59-year-old Chaturvedi, referring to the rising consumption of tobacco products such as gutkha, which contribute to some 30 percent of total cancer deaths.
"In tobacco, there are 300 cancer chemicals and 4,000 harmful chemicals but people love to buy tobacco products to become victims of mouth or throat cancer," said Chaturvedi, who has served India's Armed Forces Medical Services for 32 years.
He said other factors that have led to a rise in cancer cases are "people's unplanned daily routines, liking for fast food and Western lifestyle, mainly in urban India".
Vedanta Resources Plc is setting up the 350-bed Vedanta Cancer Hospital and Research Centre at Naya Raipur, the upcoming capital of Chhattisgarh adjacent to the existing capital.
The hospital will come up at a sprawling 50-acre plot with an investment of nearly Rs.350 crore and is expected start functioning partially by the year-end.
"People are getting addicted to luxurious lifestyles and avoid physical work. There is hardly any space for exercise or walking in their daily schedules, but they have created a lot of space for liquor and tobacco," said Chaturvedi, who has also served as executive director of Bhagwan Mahavir Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, Jaipur.
He said the number of breast cancer patients too is rising in India, with women who "prefer late child birth and hate to breastfeed" being particularly vulnerable.
"There is a perception that cancer is not curable, but it is very much curable if it is diagnosed in early stages, when the tumours are very small in size. But India lacks a good public healthcare system and the majority of cancer patients die because they get medical access only in an advanced stage," he observed.
He added that 50 percent of all forms of cancer are curable if treatment is provided in time, but in rural India, patients waste their most precious time with local doctors who lack facilities of diagnosis and finally turn to bigger hospitals only in the last stages.
"In India, 70 percent cancer patients get treatment very late. The government too is responsible for it as it has no public awareness programme about cancer at the village level.
"India is a rare country in the sense that it imposes 11 to 20 percent customs duty on imported cancer medical equipment, while these items actually deserve to be given incentives. But we can't hope for a sensible decision from the country that spends roughly just one percent of its GDP on public health," he added.