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Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2019 May 29;14(1):117. doi: 10.1186/s13023-019-1093-6.

The role of patient organizations in the rare disease ecosystem in India: an interview based study.

Author information

1
Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology, Biotech Park, Electronics City Phase 1, Bengaluru, Karnataka, 560100, India.
2
Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology, Biotech Park, Electronics City Phase 1, Bengaluru, Karnataka, 560100, India. gayatri@ibab.ac.in.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Rare diseases (RDs) affect a small percentage of the population but can be severely debilitating and life-threatening. Historically, patient groups (PGs) have been the prime movers in raising awareness about these diseases and advocating for national supportive policies. They have also driven relevant research programs. In India too, PGs have made significant contributions to the national RD ecosystem.

OBJECTIVE:

To assess the contribution of various Indian RD PGs, we carried out an interview-based study of 19organizations. This study aims to highlight the origins and achievements of these groups and the challenges that they have faced. The study also helps to capture the changes in the RD ecosystem that have taken place in recent years.

RESULT:

Of the 19 PGs, two are umbrella organizations, two are other organizations of national scope and 15 are disease specific groups. 14 interviewees were affected by an RD either directly or through a family member. Lack of awareness about RDs in the medical community was the biggest challenge, leading to a delay in diagnosis and subsequent management. Only two out of the 15 conditions have a definitive treatment. However, many of the diseases can be managed with replacement therapies administered for the patient's entire life, or other supportive therapies. Most diagnostics and treatment regimens that are available globally are now available in India but are expensive and usually available only in a few major cities. These problems are compounded by a lack of medical insurance schemes and government policies to support these patients. The biggest achievement of the PGs was the passing of National Policy for Treatment of Rare Diseases in 2017, unfortunately since put in abeyance. If reinstated, and properly implemented, this policy could significantly improve RD management in the country.

CONCLUSION:

PGs have had a significant role in bringing diagnostics and treatments to India. They have also raised awareness about RDs and related issues such as newborn screening, prenatal diagnostics and genetic counselling. This study highlighted the recommendations of various PGs. The government should address these recommendations and institutionalize the participation of the PGs in formal decision making.

KEYWORDS:

Disease-specific group; Patient group; Policy; Rare disease; Umbrella organization

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