The Association of Stem Cell Banks of India (ASBI) applauds the service tax exemption on preservation of umbilical cord stem cells which was announced by Honorable Finance Minister Mr P Chidambaram in his Vote Of Account Speech 2014. Specifically the exemption removes the burden of 12.36% tax on the services offered by cord blood banks for the preservation of umbilical cord stem cells and related services thereof.
These stem cells are utilized in the treatment of over 80 genetic and critical illnesses like leukemia, thalassemia, lymphoma, myeloma, sickle-cell anemia, etc., and these stem cells are collected from the baby’s umbilical cord at the time of birth.. These stem cells can be preserved for a lifetime as they are frozen at close to -200 degree centigrade using liquid nitrogen. Importantly stem cells from the umbilical cord offer a higher chance of finding a match when the need arises and are also readily available.
In India the inventory of public cord blood stem cell units and bone marrow stem cell donors is substantially lower compared to other countries, whereas our disease burden is much higher, which makes the services offered by private stem cell banks as a very useful healthcare service. The stem cell banks in India are governed by the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) under the Drugs & Cosmetic Rules, issued by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MOHFW).
A note was issued by the MOHFW in 2013 clarifying that stem cell services are essentially healthcare services and therefore recommended the services to be exempted from service tax. Citing the same in his budget speech Finance Minister noted that he has accepted the request from the Ministry of Health and therefore granted an exemption. This exemption would surely make the service affordable to more parents who seek to invest in this essential healthcare service for their babies at the time of childbirth.
A clip from the Union Budget Speech pertaining to the exemption of service tax:
Commenting on the exemption Mayur Abhaya, President of ASBI and CEO of LifeCell International noted that “We are extremely pleased that the Government has heeded our request to exempt the service tax associated with cord blood banking. This is a clear indicator of the Government’s recognition of cord blood banking as an essential healthcare service and its importance in the growth of country’s healthcare agenda. This is the first win for the association and a crucial one for the growth of the industry. We believe that this move will remove the financial burdens associated with the service and enable greater level acceptance of the concept among expectant parents.”
Leading obstetrician and gynecologist Dr.Kamala Selvaraj added “Stem cells are lifesaving in many conditions such as Thalassemia. Treatment of children with such conditions becomes feasible when we use umbilical cord stem cells that the family has preserved at the time of birth. I believe that this move by the government paves way for better healthcare opportunities for the coming generations.”
The Association of Stem Cell Banks of India was formed in 2012 among 15 member stem cell banks in the country to take the benefits of stem cells to the masses through awareness campaigns and develop preservation of stem cells as an essential healthcare service. ASBI will support the growth of the stem cell industry and also promote stem cellresearch in the country. The association will work closely with government authorities to bring in the regulations for the industry and enhance & maintain service standards of the industry.