When the Titanic sank, the passengers’ economic status played a part in their survival prospects; the lifeboats could take only half of those on board. A first-class ticket practically guaranteed survival, while only half of third class passengers could save themselves.

The story of women suffering from cancer in India is remarkably similar, and the lack of progress in making healthcare fair and equitable has only worsened the lot of womenfolk, who have traditionally occupied the lower perches on the social totem.

Technological progress in communication and transportation has reduced barriers to international trade and revolutionised modern life; though healthcare remains a largely domestic pursuit.

Today Rs. 2,00,000 could cover the cost of a four-year college degree, but that sum will barely cover the cost of modern cancer care. With a relatively low percentage of the population covered under health insurance, much of the money spent comes from patients themselves.

Millions grapple with the prohibitive cost of cancer treatment in India, and trying to stay alive has wiped out entire life savings, making them bankrupt. Undoubtedly, providers (pharmaceutical companies, government, healthcare specialists) and patients are under severe pressure to contain healthcare expenditures while maintaining or improving quality of care.

In what is surely an unheralded move, the government and industry have unified their efforts to create an ecosystem based on the principles of social and economic equality that are enshrined in our Constitution. Some of the laudable steps that have come out of this partnership include compulsory licensing of expensive life-saving therapies and the new pricing policy that makes over 300 essential drugs affordable to all.

Innovative healthcare delivery models such as HCG & Arvind Eye have furthered the availability of quality treatments at affordable prices to the disenfranchised. A recent development includes the launch of the world’s only affordable biosimilar breast cancer drug whose benefits to women with certain breast cancer is nothing short of a revolution.

We are in the best of times where the importance of women rights and women empowerment is truly understood by the political class and the general population. Ensuring affordable and accessible healthcare options, without bias, could just take us a step further towards making India a truly fair and gender agnostic society.

(Dr. Vineet Gupta is Principal Consultant Medical Oncologist & Hematologist with a Delhi-based hospital group. e-mail: oncofellow@yahoo.com)

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