By Ritika Sakhuja and Prabhat Prakash
New Delhi: Nirmala Sitharaman, Finance Minister of India, in the Lok Sabha today while announcing the Union Budget 2023, notified that the sickle cell anaemia (SCA) elimination programme will entail awareness creation, universal screening of seven crore people in the age group of 0-40 years in affected tribal areas, and counselling through collaborative efforts of central ministries and state governments.
Terming the decision as a ‘welcome step’, medical experts speaking to ETHealthworld informed that the initiative to eliminate sickle cell anaemia by the ruling government will be a critical socioeconomic determinant for the progress of India.
Commenting on the announcement, Dr Ankita Baidya, Senior Infectious Disease Expert, HCMCT Manipal Hospitals voiced, “I appreciate this step that the government has taken for launching a mission to eliminate sickle cell anaemia with a target of 2047. Being an infectious diseases physician, I am also concerned about communicable diseases, and infectious diseases. Though a lot of work is being done by the government sector in the field of tuberculosis (TB), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and chikungunya. But I feel more budget and funds need to be allocated in this sector to enable more advancements in the medicines needed to tackle these infectious diseases. Also, there needs to be more attention given to the control and prevention of these diseases.”
Acknowledging the move by the central government, Dr Minnie Bodhanwala, CEO, Wadia Hospitals, noted, “The rollout for screening for sickle cell anaemia of 7 crore people in the 0-40 years age group in affected tribal areas is a good move. The fact that this rare disease found a place in the budget is a testament to show that the government is on a mission to eradicate the disease and make access to quality healthcare services a reality for India.”
Resonating Dr Bodhanwala’s statement, Dr Naoya Matsumi, DMD, Sakra World Hospital Bengaluru, commented, “Launching a dedicated mission to eliminate sickle cell anaemia disease by 2047 through awareness creation and universal screening of seven crore people in 0-40 age group in the tribal areas is appreciated and will help in tackling the endemic witnessed amongst the tribal population. However, the govt should have also focused on substantial budgetary allocation for preventive and mental health, and metabolic diseases that continue to grapple the younger population, making quality healthcare further accessible in the rural areas to bring down the modern-day healthcare risk factors.”
Addressing the announcement about SCA made by the Finance Minister, Dr Tathagato Rai Dastidar, Founder and CEO, SigTuple mentioned, “The screening and eradicating SCA in the country is a step in the right direction. Anaemias and other haematological disorders are endemic in tribal populations of the country. Use of advanced digital technologies can help vastly increase the scale of screening than what is possible today.”
India has one of the largest concentrations of tribals globally, the new mission could prove extremely beneficial to thousands of compromised patients in tribal areas.
The decision to eradicate sickle cell anaemia in the country is the right step, Behram Khodaiji, CEO, Ruby Hall Clinic stated, “This initiative will not only help tackle anaemic disorders but also ensure the rural population leads a healthy life. Combined with a focus on digitisation will result in adaptation of tools using tech which will enhance healthcare outcomes, especially in tier II-III cities.”
Labelling the SCA eradication initiative as an example of managing other prevalent diseases, Jogin Desai, CEO and Co-Founder, Eyestem, said, “The mission mode programme to eradicate SCA can be tremendously impactful. Such programmes are a marathon, not a sprint, yet can create a fantastic template for programmes for other diseases like curable blindness in subsequent years.”
The mission to eliminate SCA by 2047 amongst the tribal population is a welcome move. The move is being lauded by the healthcare industry. However, experts have also highlighted that many more diseases require increased allocation of budgetary expenditure which must be considered by the government to reduce the disease burden of India.