June 20th, 2014 § 0


Gynac, what gynac?

December 19th, 2013 § 0

I'm 35. I have a child. I don't have a gynaecologist. I certainly did not have a 'gynac' when I was younger—and going by conversations with friends, I'm not the only woman (educated, middle-upper class) to reach this late age without establishing a trusted gynaecologist. A question about this on the Facebook group Mums of Bangalore led to a flurry of replies. Of ten women who replied, only three had a regular gynaecologist. Many said they had not had time to go back even once after the baby. Read the whole thing here: Gynac, what gynac?

Breast cancer and the Trastuzumab patent

September 11th, 2013 § 0

If you're a woman above 30, chances are you've spent at least some time before a mirror, silently palpating your breasts, checking for lumps. Chances are you're not even sure what the lump will feel like, and whether you will recognise it if you come across it, and what it will mean for the months and years after. The only solace lies in each passing second that you do not find the lump, and in the hope that you cling to with leechlike efficiency that this of all cancers, is curable. Before most movies in the cinema, nowadays, there is the interminable view of tar-filled lungs, a black sponge dripping evil into a glass, Mukesh who has mouth cancer and who (we are told) did not make it. Eradicating mouth and lung cancer is being prioritised — and this is commendable —but perhaps, we should also have more public service ads talking about breast cancer. After all, it is the most common of all cancers and more women die of it than from any other cancer. This is despite the fact that it is curable. Many deaths take place in countries with low resources, where women simply do not have the money to buy medication. For such a common cancer, the medication is expensive. Take Trastuzumab, the antibody that fights HER2+, a fierce form of breast cancer. It is used as a first line or advanced form of treatment and in India, it is currently available only as Roche's Herceptin. Each vial costs Rs 70,000. A woman with breast cancer will have to take 12 such vials. A bleak scenario — but some hope spills through because Roche had to give up their patent on Trastuzumab earlier this month. The Campaign for Affordable Trastuzumab, which has been fighting this cause for a year, says it has been long overdue. More than a million women have been diagnosed with HER2+ cancer in the six years that this patent has been in force, with less than 10 per cent of them able to access the drug. While the patent for Trastuzumab may no longer be in force, there are currently no approved biosimilars for it in India. (Biosimilars are officially approved versions of biopharmaceutical products that are created by other players after patent expiry.) An estimated 25,000 new cases of HER2+ breast cancer are added every year. According to the Tata Memorial Hospital, a recent study of breast cancer risk in India revealed that 1 in 28 women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. The stakes are huge — millions of human lives — and the government needs to move quickly on getting other companies to produce the drug and make it available at reasonable prices. But according to a campaign press release, Trastuzumab is not the only case where patent barriers are tyrannical. "Our work reveals a consistent pattern of bureaucratic manoeuvres to delay and deflect legal challenges to patents held by some favoured players. There is an urgent need for review and strengthening of the system for screening applications and awarding patents, as well as closer oversight of the functioning of patent offices," says the release. The campaign plans to focus on this. In the meantime, it is trying to get the health ministry to talk to smaller companies, support development and fast-track the approval process. Currently, the approval process is indefinite. One of the hurdles in the way of others coming forward with the drug are biosimilar guidelines, says campaign coordinator Kalyani Menon-Sen. "They privilege the bigger companies and put huge financial burden to prove exact similarity. These are very complex molecules and the non-therapeutic molecules don't need to be the same. The guidelines should be reviewed and changed." Menon-Sen is currently neck deep in reading biosimilar guidelines from other countries so that they can make recommendations. She points to the ways in which big pharma retain monopoly: "Both Biocon and Roche signed off on the draft of the biosimilar guidelines — that says a lot!" And there is more at stake here than ideology. If the campaign is successful, there could be cheaper breast cancer drugs in the market by 2014. By that, we're looking at a 95 per cent price drop. Women with breast cancer could benefit from a drug that is Rs 5,000 per dose rather than Rs 70,000 per dose, says Menon-Sen. That's something worth fighting for. (This article originally appeared in Bangalore Mirror.)

Poster Gallery: infant health

September 6th, 2013 § 0

The other day, this poster popped up in my Facebook timeline. It's a neat infographic aimed at creating awareness about malnutrition in slums. Click on the image to see a larger version at their website.


It's been created by Fields of View, a collective in Bangalore that seems to be doing very interesting things -- including other such visualizations on other health / sanitation issues such as Dengue and solid waste management. Of course, posters are not enough, especially in rural areas where more direct communication is required, as this article points out. But they can still be some of the most useful, cheap and easy ways to communicate.  Since my current work is on maternal and infant health, I looked around a bit for posters on that and found:


Isn't that wonderful? Contrary to what some believe, women are not born with such knowledge miraculously wired into them. So a little bit of help goes a long way. This poster is part of a useful set of resources at Common Health, an organization that works on maternal and neonatal health as well as safe abortion. The Akshara Centre also has posters on their website, most on issues such as violence and the girl child, and some on health. Here's one I like which is not strictly about infant health but about something related -- reproductive health. The text is in Hindi and says that couples dealing with infertility should check the man's health first because it's both necessary and easy. This message cannot be stressed enough in a country where women are almost always held solely responsible for infertility, and often punished in cruel and horrible ways.

 And just for fun, I love this one from the US Library of Congress collection.  

Maternal Health in India

June 12th, 2013 § 0

For the last six months, I've been a New Media Fellow with the International Reporting Project based at John Hopkins University. As a Fellow, I use new media outlets to cover issues related to maternal and reproductive health. One of the things I've had to do is read a lot about these subjects obviously and I thought it might be useful to collect some of those articles on Storify. I've reproduced this here because Storify gives you a neat option of exporting which excited me very much.  The exported post is a bit too long so please check out this link to read. Scroll down for other posts.