Private dental hospitals will be asked to screen poor patients for free. Govt to fund treatment through existing healthcare plans. With Maharashtra recording the highest number of oral cancer cases in the country, the Devendra Fadnavis government has come up with the country’s first oral health policy, Swashtha Mukh Abhiyan, which will be launched soon.
Under the programme, it will be mandatory for all private dental hospitals and clinics to screen, without charge, poor patients for oral cancer. State-run facilities are already doing this. The target is to screen 5 crore people. The government will fund the treatment through existing healthcare schemes.
Swashtha Mukh Abhiyan was finalised for launch after Tata Memorial Hospital in Parel, the country’s top cancer-care facility, presented a grim picture about the incidence of oral cancer, especially among youngsters, in the state, which witnesses 1 lakh deaths linked to tobacco use every year.
“Oral cancer is the number 1 cause of death among male patients and number 3 among female patients,” said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, a senior oncologist with Tata Memorial. “The majority of the patients are below the age of 35.”
Oral cancer cases
Most experts blame tobacco consumption for the high number of oral cancer cases. “We have seen cases where children as young as 12 have started chewing tobacco,” Dr Chaturvedi said.
In December last year, 3 lakh people across the state were diagnosed with potential signs of oral cancer. In India, 1 lakh new confirmed cases of oral cancer are reported every year, with 50% of the patients dying within 12 months of diagnosis.
Dr Chaturvedi said the numbers could be controlled through a sustained effort. “Oral cancer is the most suitable type for early detection and prevention,” he said.
‘Maha Aarogya’ camps
Fadnavis has already asked the Directorate of Medical Education and Research, Directorate of Health Services, Tata Memorial and Maharashtra Dental Council to start introducing the new policy. A senior doctor, who is associated with the dental council, said the chief minister was shocked to see a high number of cases of oral disease at ‘Maha Aarogya’ camps. “That’s when he decided to start a programme focusing on oral health,” the doctor said.
Dr. Mansingh Pawar, dean of Government Dental College and Hospital, is the project coordinator. “Not only screening, but the mission will also focus on creating awareness on oral hygiene and dangers of tobacco use. We will train dentists and Tata Memorial will help them conduct minor surgeries and provide chemotherapy,” he said.
Dr Pawar added: “Our target is to screen 100 people per day per institute. We will invite 20,000 private dental doctors to join the programme and dedicate one day to poor patients.”
Around 90% of patients with oral cancer have a history of chewing tobacco, which causes severe tooth decay and bleeding in gums. Close to 80% of people with oral cavities and oropharyngeal cancer previously smoked cigarettes or chewed tobacco, according to D.r Pawar.