PURPOSE: The WHO essential medicines list (EML) guides selection of drugs for national formularies. Here, we evaluate which medicines are considered highest priority by Indian oncologists and the extent to which they are available in routine practice.
METHODS: This is a secondary analysis of an electronic survey developed by the WHO EML Cancer Medicine Working Group. The survey was distributed globally using a hierarchical snowball method to physicians who prescribe systemic anticancer therapy. The survey captured the 10 medicines oncologists considered highest priority for population health and their availability in routine practice.
RESULTS: The global study cohort included 948 respondents from 82 countries; 98 were from India and 67 were from other low- and middle-income countries. Compared with other low- and middle-income countries, the Indian cohort was more likely to be medical oncologist (70% v 31%, P < .001) and work exclusively in the private health system (52% v 17%, P < .001). 14/20 most commonly selected medicines were conventional cytotoxic drugs. Universal access to these medicines was reported by a minority of oncologists; risks of significant out-of-pocket expenditures for each medicine were reported by 19%-58% of oncologists. Risk of catastrophic expenditure was reported by 58%-67% of oncologists for rituximab and trastuzumab. Risks of financial toxicity were substantially higher within the private health system compared with the public system.
CONCLUSION: Most high-priority cancer medicines identified by Indian oncologists are generic chemotherapy agents that provide substantial improvements in survival and are already included in WHO EML. Access to these treatments remains limited by major financial burdens experienced by patients. This is particularly acute within the private health system. Strategies are urgently needed to ensure that high-quality cancer care is affordable and accessible to all patients in India.