Solving for Childhood Cancer in India, Health News, ET HealthWorld

Brand Connect Initiative

Bombay, November 24, 2021

– A recent panel discussion with ET Health World and oncologists, non-profit organizations working with children with cancer, researchers and companies funding pediatric cancer care in India helped to highlight some of the critical challenges facing children fighting cancer in India and the possible solutions to bring.

dr. Anil D’Cruz, currently director of oncology at Apollo Hospitals and former director at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, India, shared his perspectives based on his experience with adult cancer.“Malnourished children will not be able to complete the whole treatment. Most cancer treatments consist of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, and they all take their toll on the body, so it makes sense to be well nourished, because it helps to tolerate treatments better.” dr. D’Cruz is currently the president of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) 2020-22.

Most childhood cancers can be cured, but cure rates in low to middle income countries like India can be as low as 15-45%. In response to that statement and sharing its perspective on the inherent burden of malnutrition on children with cancer, dr. Girish Chinnaswamy, Professor and Head of Department of Pediatric Oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, helped with some pertinent data: “To give you the numbers, about 48% of the children who come to these large centers (like Tata Memorial Hospital) for treatment have what is known as severe acute malnutrition. Cancer is a very energy consuming disease, and one tends to lose weight even faster. There is a very rapid downward trajectory.”

Purnota Dutta Bahl, Founder and CEO of Cuddles Foundation shared some demonstrable actions taken by her foundation to tackle malnutrition in children with cancer: “One of the main reasons for stopping treatment is also poverty, as they say. Cancer is a disease for the rich. We identify people at risk of discontinuing treatment and provides the families with (monthly) ration bundles that the whole family and the child can participate in for a month. It provides 100% of the calorie needs of the child.”

“We also do a lot of parent support group meetings because we want to train parents to care for their child with the limited resources they have, once they have completed treatment and left the hospital.”

While Dr. Girish and Dr. Anil discussed the nature of the disease and its impact on treatment and cure rates, dr. Ravi Mehrotra, Advisor Datar Cancer Genomics & Former CEO of ICMR & National Institute of Cancer Prevention & Research, exposed a major industry problem – lack of awareness among our own medical professionals. “The delay in referring patients to a tertiary center after diagnosis is an existing problem. A delay of 2 to 3 months can make it difficult for the patient to receive the right treatment because the disease is said to have progressed, especially in the case of blood cancer.”

dr. Anil D’cruz added: “Cancer isn’t part of the curriculum in most of our medical schools, so that goes back to our education. What the mind doesn’t know, the eye doesn’t see. That goes hand in hand with early diagnosis.”

Charu Thapar, Executive Director and Head of Strategy JLL and also advocates for the CSR initiatives in her company, commented on the role of companies and the approach to social causes. She said that “Schedule 7 has made it easy for us to align our CSR goals. JLL chose to focus on preventive health care and we partnered with Cuddles Foundation and acquired the programs.” She also said that in her experience, measuring the impact of the programs has been an important motivator for employee and business contribution and participation.

It was not all challenges as the whole panel echoed the commendable efforts of many organizations and entities in India and worldwide. dr. Mehrotra reiterated the need for regular research and tailor-made and targeted solutions. He gave the example of the Kevat program that places patient navigators in hospitals that help patients from distant villages navigate the complex health care system in hospitals. Research and innovation can meet the medical needs of a large part of the Indian population. For example, we need more medication that can be taken orally rather than intravenously, stresses dr. Ravi.

dr. Anil also stressed the importance of specialty hospitals: “If we look at Tata Memorial and St.Jude Children’s Hospital in the US – they specialize. Pediatric cancer should therefore not be treated in every hospital in the city. patients should be referred to a center that not only has the doctors and the infrastructure, but most importantly the support system – that’s something that is currently lacking in most hospitals.”

The hour-long discussion ultimately led to the conclusion that a robust and holistic ecosystem that meets the medical, nutritional and emotional needs of children battling cancer is not possible without collaboration. It needs everyone to work together. It’s time to create a united voice and power for childhood cancer in India so that every child has a chance to be cured.

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