Lack of awareness about blood stem cell donation is one of the leading causes for low number of donors in In.. –

By daniellenierenberg

Shahid Akhter, editor, ETHealthworld spoke to Dr. Dinesh Bhurani, Director, Department of Hemato-Oncology & Bone Marrow Transplant, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre, to know about the progress of NPRD and the challenges associated with blood stem cell transplants.

How do you think the National Policy for Rare Diseases will impact the treatment of patients suffering from rare blood disorders? Will it help reduce the lag that we often see in policy and practice when it comes to healthcare systems?National Policy on Rare Diseases is a step-in right direction and must be welcomed by the Indian medical fraternity. It not only recognizes rare diseases for the first time in India but also has brought forward the possibility of affordable treatment for life-threatening rare diseases which were not previously covered under the national health program. The policy advocates access for treatment through center of excellences, crowd funding and financial assistance.

The NPRD in a bid to enable patients suffering from rare blood disorders has laid emphasis on the option of one-time curative treatment through hematopoietic stem cell transplant for diseases such as Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), Chronic Granulomatous disease, Wiskott Aldrich Syndrome, Osteopetrosis, and Fanconi Anaemia. By committing to provide a Rs. 20 lakhs cover for the one-time treatment cost of diseases falling under Group 1 through the umbrella scheme of Rashtriya Arogya Nidhi, the NPRD has attempted to provide coverage to almost 40 per cent of the population who are eligible under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana. The NPRD as a policy that advocates affordable and accessible healthcare and has the potential to lead to the creation of a conducive healthcare ecosystem whereby multisectoral partnerships can collaboratively work towards reduction in the lag between policy and practice often seen otherwise, thereby leading people to live healthier and fuller lives.

Another reason for low number of donors in India is the misconception that stem cell donation comes with a cost to donor. This idea is completely misplaced and untrue as the cost of procedure starting from sample collection, donation and travel is free of cost, and covered under the cost of treatment of a patient for whom the donation is needed. Added to this is the fact that the number of organizations working in the country in the space of blood stem cell transplant is limited at best, thus awareness generation as compared to other health issues is nominal. However, the situation is gradually evolving and ICMR in its 2021 guidelines has gone on to recognize seven registries across the country as active stakeholders in this ecosystem. This recognition by ICMR will hopefully lead to greater awareness generation.

For blood stem cell transplant knowledge is key in establishing patient donor linkage, and by storing the requisite information with them, these registries do just that. Technology is a tool that has been successfully leveraged by stakeholders in the ecosystem to establish linkages. The Hap- E Search is one such tool that has been used by hospitals in the country to find donor matches for their patients. This software is perhaps one of the most enabling tools available to us in the ecosystem, as it helps find HLA matches not just in the country but across the world. This software is now being used by many government hospitals like AIIMS, Delhi and PGIMER Chandigarh. Once the matching donor is found via the HAP-E Search, the donor is encouraged to make the donation, provided counselling and support to donate blood stem cells, and post donation the stem cells are transported to the patients location.

The NPRD proposed crowdfunding and PPP models to ensure more patients availing treatment for rare diseases. How beneficial do you think such partnerships can be to enable blood stem cell transplant ecosystem?Treatment for rare diseases has been found to be expensive across the world. It is thus that despite stem cell transplants being a proven effective solution in the case of some blood disorders, affordability continues to be a challenge for patients and their families. With treatment costs ranging anywhere between Rs. 15-45 lakh, it remains out of reach for most patients in the country. Also, blood disorders, classified as rare, have limited infrastructure in health systems, networks, and subsidies for patients to access treatments are few. In such a scenario, crowdfunding is definitely a feasible option for patients that would ensure that they do not have to forego treatment due to a paucity of resources.

As per the NPRD, the money raised through crowdfunding would directly get credited to the treatment centre thus ensuring that there is adequate linkage. Further, the public private partnership model suggested by the government has enabled it to avail the support of non- governmental and not-for- profit agencies present in the country. This is truly commendable as not only will this ensure more patient donor linkage in the blood stem transplant ecosystem but will also lead to greater awareness generation and registrations of donors as well. One significant organization that has already partnered with the government in this arena is the DKMS BMST Foundation India. With over 50,000 blood stem cell donors registered with them, this organization has been steadily working towards enabling the ecosystem. In the case of rare diseases, it is imperative that stakeholders do not work in isolation and the government working alongside the private can lead to greater hope for many patients with greater amenities and facilities for treatment being made accessible to them.

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Lack of awareness about blood stem cell donation is one of the leading causes for low number of donors in In.. -

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