Making a living

The cloak of altruism does not quite fit the blood transfusion value chain in this country. The theme of this year’s WHO World Blood Donor Day campaign, which is marked every June 14, is ‘Thank you for saving my life’. By thanking voluntary blood donors and highlighting how they have saved patients’ lives, WHO hopes to motivate more voluntary blood donations. Its final goal is that all countries receive 100 per cent blood supplies from voluntary unpaid donors by 2020.

But, blood supplies is a billion dollar business and in countries like India, the skewed demand-supply gap makes it well nigh impossible to envisage a day when the country can achieve WHO’s 2020 target. As the cover story in this issue highlights, the cloak of altruism does not quite fit the blood transfusion value chain in this country (See story: License to bill, pages 20-25). Spanning donation to disbursement, including all the steps of collection, testing, processing and distribution; the blood supplies industry could do with a strong dose of regulation so that patients can get guaranteed access to safer, more affordable blood supplies, when they need it most, wherever they need it. This is a distant dream for most patients and their relatives today. With the size of India’s population, it is only to be expected that not much remains philanthropic but limits must be set for the greater public good.

Genetic diagnostics, also called molecular diagnostics, is another area where India is considered one of the fastest growing markets. Globally projected to be worth $7.9 billion by 2018, a MarketsandMarkets report predicts a CAGR of 9.7 per cent during the forecast period (2013–2018), with Asia slated to be the most promising region for molecular diagnostics in the coming five years, as it plays catch up with the rest of the world.

But the path for genetic diagnostics and the resulting practice of personalised medicine will not be smooth. As the lead story in the genetic diagnostics section analyses, the euphoria surrounding the medical genetics revolution has been tempered by major analytical and interpretative challenges that have emerged in recent years. (See story, Tracing the trends in genetic diagnostics, pages 28-31).

India is not the only country where genetic diagnostics has a promising but challenging future. A PwC report on ‘The Science of Personalized Medicine: Translating the Promise into Practice’, calls it a disruptive innovation that will create both opportunities and challenges for traditional healthcare and emerging market participants. For instance, as the report points out, the growing direct-to-consumer (DTC) diagnostic market is convenient for consumers but also controversial. And as India lacks skilled counsellors to interpret these results, patients and their relatives could end up taking the wrong decisions.

India is nowhere close to ensuring equitable access to these and other healthcare facilities and services. As the euphoria of PM Modi’s first year wears off, let us hope that he and his team get down to bridging the gaps and converting slogans into reality.

Viveka Roychowdhury

World Blood Donor Day