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VP calls for a multi-pronged strategy to arrest cancer

The Vice President of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu called for adopting a multi-pronged strategy to arrest the growing incidence of cancer–from launching an aggressive awareness campaign on the need to lead a healthy lifestyle to holding regular health screening camps at the community level. Emphasizing on collective action, Shri Naidu said, “Let us act together to prevent cancer and save lives.”

The Vice President made these remarks while virtually inaugurating the IFCPC 2021 World Congress hosted by the Indian Society of Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology. He also launched a special edition of ‘Indian Journal of Gynaecological Oncology’ during the event.

Noting that cervical cancer is ranked as the second most common cancer in Indian women, the Vice President pointed out that cervical cancer is both preventable and curable. He said that early diagnosis through routine screening of apparently healthy women has led to a phenomenal reduction in the global burden of the disease. “If we adopt a comprehensive approach to prevent, screen and treat cervical cancer, it can be eliminated as a public health problem,” he added.

Highlighting that cervical cancer can be prevented by the means of vaccine, Shri Naidu said, “the Anti-HPV vaccine administered to young girls has been seen as a proven tool in the prevention of cervical cancer.”

Shri Naidu urged private hospitals to organize regular visits of healthcare specialists to rural areas and spread awareness amongst people on the preventive measures, early symptoms of cervical cancer, the importance of early detection and the benefits of the HPV vaccine.

Drawing attention to the growing menace of cancer, the Vice President mentioned that in 2020 alone, nearly 10 million people died of cancer worldwide. “With around 70 per cent of cancer deaths occurring in low-to-middle income countries, the burden of cancer-related morbidity and mortality is higher for them and has grave implications to the economy of these nations,” he added.

Pointing out that at least one-third of the common cancers are preventable, Shri Naidu expressed his concern that in a majority of cases, cancers are being detected at an advanced stage which makes the treatment and recovery that much more challenging.

Highlighting the plight of cancer patients and their family members, Shri Naidu said that during cancer treatment, patients and their families not only get affected physically and mentally but monetarily too. “In many cases, families end up exhausting their life savings to meet the expenses,” he added. Referring to the high costs of cancer treatment, the Vice President said there was an urgent need to bring down the cost of cancer treatment.

Calling the Ayushman Bharat scheme a major flagship initiative of the Government of India to provide comprehensive insurance coverage to 10.74 crore needy and vulnerable families, Shri Naidu said that it would provide a cover of Rs. 5 lakhs per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization across public and private empanelled hospitals in India.

The Vice President also expressed his concern over the rising numbers of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). He said that amidst our fight against the pandemic, the rise in NCDs could not be ignored. Shri Naidu mentioned that apart from a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and harmful consumption of alcohol; high levels of pollution were also contributing to the rise in NCDs. Describing it as a worrisome situation, the Vice President called for a concerted action to prevent NCDs and reduce premature deaths caused by them.

Stressing on the importance of physical and mental well-being, the Vice President reiterated the words of great spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda, he said, “You must keep a strict eye on your health; let everything else be subordinated to that.”

The Vice President appreciated the medical fraternity and healthcare professionals for their noble service during the ongoing pandemic, he said, “The entire world is indebted to the medical fraternity for their selfless service during the ongoing battle against the pandemic.”

Shri Naidu lauded the International Federation of Cervical Pathology & Colposcopy and the Indian Society of Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology for their commitment and efforts towards reducing the burden of cervical cancer globally.

Dr Harsh Vardhan, Hon’ble Health Minister of India, Prof (Dr) Sunil Kumar, Director General of Health Services, Govt. of India, senior doctors, Office Bearers of IFCPC, Members of ISCCP, health experts and students also participated during the virtual event.

Following is the full text of the speech:
“I am pleased to inaugurate the IFCPC 2021 World Congress which is being hosted by the Indian Society of Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology.

I am sure the deliberations in this World Congress will strengthen our efforts and commitment towards preventing cervical cancer.

Dear Sisters and brothers,

Last year COVID-19 came into our lives unannounced and turned our world upside down. Till now there have been nearly 18 crore people across the world who got infected with the Coronavirus. Tragically, around 39 lakh people lost their lives to this deadly virus. The pandemic has impacted each one of us in many ways, but the medical fraternity and healthcare professionals are the ones who have been affected the most by it. Undeterred, they have risen to the occasion and are striving hard to keep us safe from the deadly virus.

Words fail when it comes to expressing our profound gratitude to them. The entire world is indebted to the medical fraternity for their selfless service during the ongoing battle against the pandemic.

Dear friends,

As we continue our fight against the invisible enemy, we cannot ignore the rising number of cases of non-communicable diseases.

Cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes are some of the major types of NCDs that have impacted the health and well-being of people across the world. According to WHO, 41 million people succumb to NCDs every year—a staggering figure adding up to nearly 71% of all deaths globally.

The rise in NCDs, as we know, is due to sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy diets, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and harmful consumption of alcohol to name a few major triggers. Data suggests that high levels of pollution are also contributing to the rise in NCDs and this is yet another cause for concern. The time has come to reverse this trend. There is a need for concerted action to prevent NCDs and reduce premature deaths caused by them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further reinforced the importance of physical and mental well-being to ward off diseases. As Swami Vivekananda rightly said, “You must keep a strict eye on your health; let everything else be subordinated to that.”

Dear sisters and brothers,

Today, cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide. According to WHO, in 2020 alone, nearly 10 million people died of cancer worldwide. The cancer burden is growing across the world, leading to a total global economic cost of 1.16 trillion USD per annum. The misery, gloom and trauma, cancer brings in its wake compound this, adding immeasurable psychological costs.

With around 70 percent of cancer deaths occurring in low-to-middle income countries, the burden of cancer-related morbidity and mortality is higher for them and has grave implications to the economy of these nations.

There was a time when the word ‘Cancer’ meant a terminally incurable condition, a death sentence, so to say. Advances in the field of medical research have resulted in a better understanding of the diseases’ aetiology, pathology and progression and paved the way for efficient diagnostic tools and treatment modalities. Today, at least one-third of common cancers are preventable. But, in a majority of cases, cancers are being detected at an advanced stage which makes the treatment and recovery that much more challenging.

Breast cancer and cervical cancer, the most common forms of cancer in women worldwide, are on a steady rise, accounting for more deaths in women than any other cancer in the developing world. According to WHO, in 2018, about three lakh women succumbed to cervical cancer. India accounts for nearly one-third of the global cervical cancer deaths. It ranks second amongst the most common cancers in Indian women, after breast cancer.

Cervical cancer is both preventable and curable. Yet, it is a matter of concern that it is the fourth most common form of cancer among women worldwide.

Cancer of the cervix is one condition, where early diagnosis through routine screening of apparently healthy women, has caused a phenomenal reduction in the global burden of the disease. It has significantly improved Disability-Adjusted Life Years and survival rates. If detected early and managed effectively, Cervical Cancer is one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer. If we adopt a comprehensive approach to prevent, screen and treat cervical cancer, it can be eliminated as a public health problem.

As you are aware, cervical cancer can be prevented by means of vaccination. Most of the cases of cervical cancer are caused by certain types of Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV. Anti-HPV vaccine administered to young girls has been seen as a proven tool in the prevention of cervical cancer.

To accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer, WHO has set three crucial targets that need to be achieved by all the countries by 2030. To achieve the ambitious goal, all countries must vaccinate 90% of girls with the HPV vaccine by the age of 15; Screen 70% of women using a high-performance test by the age of 35, and again by the age of 45; provide treatment to 90% of women considered pre-cancerous and manage 90% of women with invasive cancer.

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

It is an uphill task for the Government alone to succeed in this battle against cancer and the private sector must step in to achieve the ambitious goal.

As part of CSR initiatives, private hospitals must organize regular visits of healthcare specialists to rural areas and spread awareness amongst people on the preventive measures, early symptoms of cervical cancer, the importance of early detection and the benefits of HPV vaccine.

Thus, there is a need to adopt a multi-pronged strategy by all stakeholders to arrest the growing incidence of cancers—from launching an aggressive awareness campaign on the need to lead a healthy lifestyle, to holding regular health screening camps at the community level. There has to be a public-private partnership in this regard. Let us act together to prevent cancer and save lives.

Dear friends,

During cancer treatments, patients and their families not only get affected physically and mentally but monetarily too. In many cases, families end up exhausting their life savings to meet the expenses. There is an urgent need to bring down the cost of cancer treatment.

To support the needy, the Government of India has come up with a pioneering universal healthcare initiative—Ayushman Bharat. Around 10.74 crore needy and vulnerable, entitled families stand to gain from the scheme, which provides a cover of Rs. 5 lakhs per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization across public and private empanelled hospitals in India.

I am happy to note that International bodies like the International Federation of Cervical Pathology & Colposcopy strive to work towards the objective of reducing the burden of disease due to cervical cancer globally through scholastic activities including World Congress held triennially.

I would once again like to congratulate ISCCP for holding the World Congress and for bringing together stakeholders committed to the noble cause of preventing cervical cancer by disseminating and sharing knowledge on this very important subject. This is in tune with the World Health Organization’s aim to reduce the incidence and mortality due to cervical cancer by 2030. My best wishes are with the organizing team of IFCPC 2021.

In the end, I would like to repeat the age-old dictum that ‘Prevention is better than cure’ and convey my best wishes to the organizing team of IFCPC 2021 who are striving to save lives, millions at a time.

Jai Hind!” MB Bureau