India faces acute shortage of cancer specialists

Mumbai: In what could be a serious concern for India, there are only 1,600 cancer specialists in the country. According to reports of Union Health Ministry, 5,00,000 people die of cancer in the country every year. What’s worse is that a 20% surge in cancer cases is expected by the end of the decade.

Across the medical profession, the doctor patient ratio is abysmally low throughout the country but especially glaring in cancer care. S H Advani, one of India’s top oncologists who pioneered the stem cell transplant in the 1970s, still sees around 80 to 100 patients a day. In America, doctors don’t see more than 10 patients a day.

“I think the shortage has been basically because we started in oncology very late. About 40 years ago, when I entered this branch, there were hardly about 100 people all over India, only 100 people. And it’s only last 15 years or so, that organised training is available in many centres. So every year, we are adding only 50 specialists, while the deficit is huge,” Advani said.

Currently there is one doctor for 2,500 cancer patients. Every year, India is adding only 15 surgical cancer specialists and 25 medicine oncologists. Experts estimate that three times as many are needed. Gynaecological cancer cases are seeing a huge spurt, but there are only 30 specialists in the country to treat these cases. These doctors are concentrated primarily in the metros.

It is no surprise that 80% of cancer patients get medical help very late, when cure or treatment is rare. “I think the best solution is to increase the centre of excellence in cancer so that people get attracted to this branch,” Advani said.

Currently, there are only 15 cancer centres in the country. Though the Health Ministry has announced setting up of 20 new cancer hospitals across the country over the next few years, it is going to be a race against time.


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