Cancer treatment: India vs others countries
Doctors say India is on par with international cancer hospitals. Why then, do people tend to go abroad for treatments? Debarati S Sen finds out..
Case 1: Cricketer Yuvraj Singh was in the US undergoing treatment for cancer. His mother was quoted saying that doctors in India gave him wrong diagnoses.
Case 2: A leading Bollywood actress has been taking her father to the US for cancer treatment for a while now.
Case 3: Raj Kapoor’s daughter Ritu Nanda has been undergoing treatment for cancer in the US for the last three months.
Case4: Sonia Gandhi has been going abroad for treatment. There are hushed whispers that she has the dreaded disease.
These instances ring alarm bells — why are people high on going abroad for cancer treatments? Is our country inept to deal with the ‘emperor of maladies’? Do we lack good doctors, or are we falling short of equipments and medicines?
We delved into the situation and found that all the above queries, thankfully, have a negative answer.
Cancer treatment in India is the best
One of the topmost cancer surgeons in the world today, Dr R Bidwe, the Director of the Tata Memorial Research Centre asserts, “We offer the same treatment as any other part of the world. Everything that can be done in the best cancer centers across the globe can be done here.”
Dr Ashish Bakshi, senior consultant medical oncologist with the L H Hiranandani Hospital reiterates that cancer treatment in our country is equivalent and in some cases even better than anywhere else abroad.
Devika Bhojwani, Vice President of the Women’s Cancer Initiative says, “It is a myth that we get better cancer treatment abroad. When it comes to treating cancer, we are one of the best in the world today. We have the finest surgeons here and right from the hospitals, to the treatment and surgery techniques, equipments used, and post-treatment care as well as cost, we are among the finest.”
Director Anurag Basu, who had been diagnosed with acute leukemia in 2004 was given a two-month ultimatum. He battled cancer here in our country and says that it is not that India is less any way when it comes to cancer treatment. The ace director states, “As a cancer survivor, I have attended many conferences and seminars abroad and have always heard foreign doctors speak very highly of the kind of work being done in India when it comes to cancer. I have always heard them talk very highly of Indian doctors.”
Treatment abroad is expensive
Dr Bidwe says, “The cost of treating cancer abroad can be around ten times more and in dollars, so that effectively makes it 500 times more. For example, even for a simple consultation abroad the deposit is 10,000 USD (approx Rs 511100).”
Lack of support system and familiarity abroad
Twelve years ago, when Devika was diagnosed with cancer she knew that she would get the best treatment here. “I went to Dr Praful Desai and had a positive experience.” She believes that the kind of support system that one gets in your own country is unparalleled. “It works psychologically — you are more positive and definitely more comfortable when surrounded by your family and friends than when you are in an alien country.”
India is at par
Elucidating this further Dr Bakshi states, “Nowadays, when new are drugs introduced abroad — they are simultaneously launched here and are easily available here.” Dr Bidwe says that even if takes longer to launch here it is never more than a three-month gap. Devika adds, “There are instances of hundreds of people coming here for cancer treatment from the West but that does not get highlighted. And that proves our country is one of the best in this field.”
Why abroad, then?
Dr Bidwe says, “The reason that people still want to go abroad for treatment is that they don’t want people to know they are suffering from cancer. Dr Bakshi says, “Patients tend to travel abroad but that only happens in the case of celebrities and they do it the sake of privacy.”
Considering the fact that it is extremely expensive to treat cancer abroad maybe the celebrities are the only ones who can really afford it.
Anurag makes another point, “I believe that in our country, the doctor-to-patient ratio is extremely poor. There are too many cancer patients in India, and the numbers are increasing every year, whereas there aren’t enough oncologists. And that is probably because studying oncology takes a long time and MBBS students take up other specialisations. Abroad, there are more doctors and fewer patients and maybe because of that, when people can afford to, they go abroad.”
Experts agree that the doctor-to-patient ratio is skewed, “We have 450,000 follow-up patients every year and our annual registration of new patients is 50,000 with a permanent staff (upper limit) of 150 doctors, whereas abroad there are around 30,000 annual registrations of new patients with 700 doctors,” informs Dr Bidwe.
Bollywood music director Aadesh Shrivastava who had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma in October 2010 had two options; either seek treatment in London or here in the country. But he chose the latter. “Seeking treatment in London would mean shifting my family along, and disrupting my children’s education, which would be quite a hassle. Besides, the treatments available here are on par with those abroad. Many top doctors and surgeons abroad are Indian. Also, it terms of cost, there’s not much of a difference.
The bonus point in seeking treatment abroad is that, because of the pleasant weather and less pollution, the rate of recovery is faster.” Though it is said that the best doctors are based in Germany, Aadesh says that he personally prefers Indian doctors, simply because it’s much easier to communicate with them and doing so puts one at ease.