SRIRAM RANGANATHAN, 29, is a software engineer at Tata Consultancy Services. In 1999, when he was due to leave for the United States on an assignment, he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia. He imported Gleevec with the help of friends in Germany and the U.S. for a year at over Rs. 1 lakh a month. "It was too much for me, and whatever my father saved, it was all gone... We could not afford it and we had a house that we had to sell... that period was quite difficult," he said. His mother reminds him of the hassles they faced at the customs when picking up the importeddrugs, the bureaucracy involved and the delays in medication. He enrolled at the Cancer Institute in Adyar in 2003 and since then has had continuous free treatment through the Max Foundation, which dispenses Novartis medication free via the Glivec International Patient Assistance Program (GIPAP).
But not everyone is so lucky. The conditions for availing oneself of the GIPAP in India, which operates out of 11 regional cancer centres, are (i) beingproperly diagnosed; (ii) earning less than Rs.3,36,000 a month; (iii) not having insurance cover; (iv) not being reimbursed by the employer or the government; and/or (v) not being otherwise compensated.
While Novartis may supply Gleevec free of charge to 6,500-odd patients, oncologists estimate that there are anywhere between 10,000-20,000 new cases of this type of leukaemia are diagnosed each year.