Perspectives from ISB

Palliative care is slowly gaining traction in India, emerging as an increasingly recognised aspect of the healthcare system. Yet, within the realm of life-threatening illnesses, it is an often-overlooked facet that holds the power to redefine compassion, dignity, and the very essence of the end-of-life journey.

The Stark Reality

Palliative care is an approach to improve the quality of life of patients and their family members facing problems with life threating illnesses.  Patients seeking palliative care are suffering because of the lack of palliative care services in the private, corporate sector hospitals. Reseach notes that paltry 1% of the population have access to palliative care and thus India grapples with a severe shortfall in addressing the needs of those grappling with diseases like cancer, AIDS, cardiovascular ailments, and more.

Numbers that Echo

In a country where the incidence of cancer is soaring, with a rate of 100.4 per 100,000 in 2022, the need for palliative care becomes acutely apparent. According to WHO, each year, an estimated 56.8 million people, including 25.7 million in the last year of life, need palliative care, worldwide. Among them, currently only about 14% of patients are receiving palliative care.

A System Struggling

India finds itself ranked 67th out of 80 countries in the Quality of Death (QoD) index, reflecting the nation’s struggles in providing accessible and high-quality palliative care. The multidisciplinary approach, involving physicians, nurses, and other specialists, often faces obstacles due to a lack of awareness among healthcare workers, leading to misinformed decisions and unnecessary ICU admissions.

The Emotional and Financial Toll

Beyond the physical symptoms, palliative care addresses the psychological, social and spiritual dimensions which are crucial for both patients and their families. The burden of financial strain, especially for lower and middle-income families, looms large, with minimal insurance coverage and stringent rules on narcotics hindering the practice.

The Business of Compassion

As the world grapples with an aging population, the global palliative care market has swelled to $3.77 billion in 2021, according to skyquest analysis. In India, the market is projected to reach $548.19 million by 2030, fueled by an aging demographic and government support.

Taking the center stage

Between life and its inevitable end, palliative care emerges not as a luxury but as a fundamental right. The canvas of our healthcare system needs a transformation, where compassion and quality of life take center stage. With a growing demand, there’s a pressing need to bridge the gaps, increase awareness, and provide not just medical care but a humane touch to those navigating the challenging journey towards the end of life.  The time is now for India to shed light on the shadows of suffering and embrace a more compassionate and comprehensive approach to palliative care.

References:

1. Palliative Care – An Indian Perspective. (2016). ARC Journal of Public Health and Community Medicine, 1(4). https://doi.org/10.20431/2456-0596.0104005

2. Mathur, P., Sathishkumar, K., Chaturvedi, M., Das, P., & Stephen, S. (2023). Cancer incidence estimates for 2022 & projection for 2025: Result from National Cancer Registry Programme, India. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 0(0), 0. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijmr.ijmr_1821_22

3. Palliative care. (2020, August 5). https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/palliative-care

4. Global Palliative Care Market Size and Forecast to 2030. (n.d.). https://www.skyquestt.com/report/palliative-care-market

Dr P. S. Vijayender, a student of the Advanced Modular Programme in Healthcare, Class of 2024, is a Palliative Care Physician.

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