Cancer takes a toll on both health and economy
Tobacco control, vaccinations and screening can help combat the disease
The BRICS grouping of countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — are losing billions of dollars in productivity owing to cancer, says a research paper published in the Journal of Cancer Epidemiology. India recorded a total productivity loss of $6.7 billion in 2012 because of cancer, representing 0.36% of our GDP. While the cost per death of productivity lost in India was less than $20,000, the lowest among BRICS countries, the highest productivity losses – $0.74 billion – because of the lip and oral cancers are a cause for alarm. Taking the loss of productivity owing to premature death into consideration can provide policymakers additional perspective when they chart out strategies for prevention and control of the disease.
Doctors say close to 60% of cancers in India can be prevented. Around 40% of cancers in the country (such as lung cancer and cancers of mouth) are caused by tobacco use and another 20% from infections such as hepatitis B that cause liver cancer and human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer. Cancer cases in India are rising not just because of better diagnostic facilities but also owing to the shift in the way we lead our lives. Tobacco and alcohol use, consumption of processed food, air pollution and obesity are among the biggest triggers of the disease. Indian Council of Medical Research estimates say India is likely to have more than 17.3 lakh new cases of cancer and more than 8.8 lakh deaths due to the disease by 2020.
But the silver lining is that the risk of cancer can be slashed significantly by curtailing tobacco use, getting vaccinations for certain types of cancer and adopting a healthier lifestyle. Changes that reduce the burden of cancer will also have a positive effect on the economy. A combination of tobacco control, alcohol control, vaccination programmes and cancer screening will lead to significant gains for both the physical and the economic health of India.