Address by Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, Honourable Vice President of India after inaugurating the Apollos State-of-the-art Proton Cancer Centre, in Chennai on January 25, 2019.

Chennai | January 25, 2019

“India is surging ahead. India today is the fastest growing major economy. The IMF has forecast that India’s GDP is expected to grow at 7.3 per cent this year, expand to 7.5 per cent in 2019-20 and 7.7 per cent in 2020-21, even as the world economy is witnessing a slow down. India is expected to become a $ 10 trillion economy by 2030. This indeed is good news.

On the health indicators too, India has made significant progress since Independence with successive governments according high priority to health and the wellbeing of the people.

Although, the health outcomes have improved with the availability of modern methods of treatment and better healthcare facilities, the country is still facing many formidable challenges on this front. They include inadequate public spend, low doctor-patient ratio, high share of out-of-pocket expenditure, inadequate infrastructure in rural areas, lack of penetration of health insurance and inadequate preventive mechanisms.

While we have successfully eliminated some infectious diseases and improved the reach of healthcare delivery, there still is a glaring disparity in the provision of the services between urban and rural areas. While the private sector is complementing the government’s efforts in providing healthcare facilities, the focus of the corporate sector is mostly confined to urban areas.

This has to change and the urban-rural divide in this crucial sector has to be eliminated. The private sector needs to expand facilities to the rural areas, where the majority of India’s population lives.

I feel that Public Private Partnership could be the model to bridge the gap by providing technically advanced primary and secondary healthcare centres.

However, what is important is to make advanced treatment accessible and affordable to all sections. It should be a matter of concern for all stakeholders in the health sectors that millions get pushed into poverty and the vicious cycle of debts due to out-of-pocket expenses and high treatment costs.

With non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart attacks accounting for huge spending by households, this problem can be surmounted to a large extent by ensuring Universal Health Coverage where every individual gets quality treatment without facing any financial hardship. This is also essential to achieve Sustainable Development Goals.

As you all aware, various State governments and the Centre have launched several schemes to support the healthcare needs of our citizens. The Government of India has even set the target of increasing health expenditure to 2.5% of GDP by 2025 to fulfill the healthcare needs.

The Ayushman Bharat scheme is a major flagship initiative of the Union Government to provide comprehensive insurance coverage to 10 crore poor and vulnerable families. It also seeks to establish 150,000 health and wellness centres throughout India.

In building a healthier India, medical professionals are the chief protagonists. I am fully appreciative of all doctors, who had gone overseas for further studies and returned to India for serving the people of the country. Dr. Prathap C Reddy, Chairman of Apollo Hospitals never forgot his roots. He returned to India from the USA and for 35 years now has been working to transform healthcare scenario in our nation.

Today, it is heartening that almost every advanced medical procedure being performed anywhere in the world is now being performed in India. Although, these procedures are being performed at much less costs when compared to the western world, they are still out of financial reach of many people. As mentioned earlier, all stakeholders in the healthcare sector must address this issue on a war footing. Advanced health treatment costs have to be made affordable and within the reach of all sections.

As you all are aware, India is facing the twin burden of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) diseases and infectious ailments. NCDs account for 63 per cent of deaths in India as per World Health Organization (WHO) report for 2018. With cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases besides cancer and diabetes accounting for a majority of the deaths, the need of the hour is to launch a national campaign on the health hazards caused by modern lifestyle.

The growing burden of NCDs can be reversed if people stop leading sedentary life, avoid eating junk food and take up exercise regularly.

We must do everything possible to avert preventable deaths and this responsibility lies on each of us, particularly the medical professionals.

Dear sisters and brothers,

It is indeed worrisome that cancer has killed more than double the number of people in 2016 than it had targeted in 1990. The Indian Council of Medical Research’s quarter century study of cancer has found that while 3.82 lakh people had died of cancer in 1990, the number jumped to 8.13 lakh in 2016. Also, the number of cancer cases saw a similar jump: they increased from 5.48 lakh (1990) to 11 lakh (2016). The study noted that all cancers together contributed 5 per cent of the total Disability Adjusted Life Years (health years of life lost) and 8.3 per cent of the total deaths in India in 2016 — an increase of 90.9 per cent and 112.8 per cent respectively from 1990.

The most common kinds of cancer cases found in India are stomach cancer (9 per cent), breast cancer (8.2 per cent), lung cancer (7.5 per cent), lip and oral cavity cancer (7.2 per cent), pharynx cancer other than nasopharynx (6.8 per cent), colon and rectum cancer (5.8 per cent), leukaemia (5.2 per cent), and cervical cancer (5.2 per cent). Cancer is the known to be second biggest killer in India.

While major hospitals like Apollo have set up advanced cancer treatment centres, there is a need for greater focus on early diagnosis by taking up massive screening programmes. It is said that many cancers can be cured if detected early.

I would like to suggest to institutions like Apollo Hospitals to launch mobile screening vans for both urban and rural areas so that more and more people are covered by screening programmes. In many cases, cancer patients present themselves when the disease is in a fairly advanced stage with little scope to reverse it. This situation could be averted if the disease is diagnosed early.

I am aware that Apollo Hospitals has been providing world class cancer care to the people of India for the past 25 years. Since their inception, Apollo Hospitals has always been at the forefront of pushing the boundaries of treatment and care and bringing in cutting-edge medical technology.

I would like to compliment Apollo for its initiative to bring the Proton Therapy. It is considered to be the world’s most advanced form of radiation therapy for cancer that uses high-energy proton to irradiate tumours.

I am told that in treating the tumour, Proton Therapy isolates the affected area, without causing any harm to adjacent organs and hence is the most suitable for treatment of cancer in children, and complex cases where cancerous organs are closely located to crucial life-critical organs.

Proton Therapy will be a beacon of hope to people, who until now had to travel to the western world to access to this contemporary cancer care treatment. This cutting-edge of cancer treatment gives many more patients greater strength to battle cancer and lead fulfilling lives.

While bringing cutting-edge technology to treat cancers, the focus should also be on making available these health services at affordable cost. This has to be the collective endeavour of all stakeholders in the health sector. I advise Apollo also to take lead in this regard.

India also has emerged as a medical tourism hub by offering a variety of procedures and services from liver transplant to cosmetic surgery at far less prices than those offered by western countries.

Preventive care is the most important aspect of healthcare. If a disease is preventable, we should ensure that we stay well and never allow ill-health to be a stumbling block.

Moreover, India is now focused on the determinants of good health – sanitation, clean drinking water and nutrition. 1,50,000 CHCs are going to become Health & Wellness Centres and it is paramount that every Indian takes up the commitment to live healthy and also encourage all in their family and community to follow suit.

A healthier India will enable us to build a stronger, inclusive and prosperous India.

My advice to younger generation is to focus on a healthy lifestyle. Take care to consume a balanced, healthy diet and inculcate the habit of exercising regularly. Love nature and learn to live in harmony and peace with nature.

I would like to reiterate that medical profession is a mission. This mantra should be followed by every single person working in the health sector.

I am also happy to note that Apollo Hospitals has committed itself to numerous research and educational endeavours through Apollo Hospitals Educational and Research Foundation.