Our responsibility to help women who cant afford the costs, says LAKSHMI LALITA MOHAN
Cervical cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, affecting more than half a million women worldwide each year, with India accounting for nearly a third of all deaths. What's more alarming is that the risk of cervical cancer striking Indian women at some point in their lives is nearly double (1 in 53) that of women in developed countries (1 in 100). It's a huge problem, with women's cancers accounting for nearly 6% to 29% of all cancers. Despite the high prevalence and risk, the majority of Indian women do not or will not undergo cytology screening.
There are multiple reasons that can potentially cause cervical cancer in women, and these include gender bias and socially backward practices such as lack of education for the girl-child, early age marriages and pregnancies, and living in unhygienic conditions. Belonging to below poverty line families also acts as a contributor to the spread of this menace. Women who are well educated, earning good salaries or have adequate insurance coverage are more likely to avail cervical cancer screening on their own. They would mostly be able to afford the cost of such testing even if it is an out-of-pocket expenditure. However, for the rest, a concerted effort is needed from all potential contributors. Over the years, there hasn’t been a bigger private sector force than the efforts by corporates towards elimination of social challenges, improvement of healthcare and education, and above all, the measures to prevent disease spread in India.
There is a three-pronged approach that the corporate houses need to adopt to address the issue.
Screening: Cervical cancer can be detected early, which increases the chances of a complete recovery for the patient. In fact, getting screened just once in a lifetime is thought to reduce a woman's risk of cervical cancer by as much as 36%. If done between the ages of 35 and 40, two screenings can
The BNC View: The average cost of screening comes to about Rs 2,000 which the poor women can't afford. Corporates can chip in and use their CSR funds for organising camps in association with hospitals such as Tatas. As regards the treatment, there are many insurance plans available today. Corporates, perhaps, can look at sponsoring premium payments and even work on group insurance in their geographies to help the uncovered communities.
CSR funds are supposed to make social impact in the companies’ areas of operation.
reduce the risk by up to 60%. By holding screening and awareness drives, companies can make arrangements for cervical screening of their female employees. There can be options such as facilitating a discussion on the risk of cervical cancer, and the screening process and benefits.
Sanitation: Poor sanitation and lack of hygiene are among the leading causes of cervical cancer. It is caused by microbes that could be present in unhygienic washrooms. Lack of awareness about intimate hygiene and access to quality sanitation also makes women vulnerable to this form of cancer. Therefore, it is highly recommended that corporates pay great attention to ensuring complete hygiene and sanitation support for their female workforce. Organizing awareness campaigns, consultations with doctors on the dos and don’ts of intimate hygiene for women can make a significant impact in the prevention of the disease occurrence.
Health schemes: Almost all employee-centric organizations offer some of the other health scheme to their workforce. However, existing health insurance policies usually don’t cover screening and consultations. Cervical cancer screening, as well as treatment, is very costly. Majority of women in India find it unaffordable and tend to ignore the need for screening as well. This is where the corporates must review the health schemes that they offer to their workforce. Providing health insurance coverage that includes cancer screening as well would be a great initiative.
Cervical cancer is a major threat to women’s wellness in India. It is time that the corporate sector joins hands and allocates funds and efforts towards preventing this menace as a part of the CSR strategies. This will not only help businesses gain a better brand image and traction, but also achieve employee loyalty and talent retention. This would be far more valuable than the expenditure incurred on the above suggested measures! (The author is Head and Representative at Confederation of Indian Industry & Co-Founder of OncoCoin AG - Master of Laws -Corporate Security & Compliance)