Today we complete 73 years of our independent existence and celebrate our 74th Independence day. The strides we have made as a nation are truly enormous and are acknowledged widely. At the same time, the challenges which remain are no less mighty and we need to continue on the path of relentless progress to overcome hunger, poverty, ill health, strife, pollution, among others.
At this time I reflect on the cancer and childhood cancer care in India, and despite the many challenges which we face in this area, I have found FIVE reasons why I as a pediatric oncologist am POSITIVE and MOTIVATED on this day and look forward to the coming year and decade with great anticipation.
REASON ONE – WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer (GICC)
Active involvement of the WHO and launch of the GICC in 2018 (https://www.who.int/cancer/childhood-cancer/en/) has been a landmark development for all stakeholders in pediatric oncology across the world. Work has already started in several countries including Myanmar which is in the South Asian region. Some work has also begun in India last year with meetings with the professional societies and the parent groups. This year, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India along with the WHO SEARO office have selected 4 centres (BBCI Guwahati, Kidwai Hospital Bangalore, Kalawati Saran Hospital New Delhi and Tata Memorial Hospital Mumbai) to be National Centres of Excellence for Childhood Cancer services. Many more activities and initiatives will follow to help India reach the target of 60% survival rate for children with cancer by 2030.
REASON TWO – National Cancer Grid (NCG)
For too long we have had a plethora of national societies in all spheres of medicine including oncology and pediatrics, which seem to exist from meeting to meeting, seminar to seminar. Most professional medical societies in India have not taken up the cause of the patient, and addressed the deficiencies in healthcare in a big way. Enter National Cancer Grid (https://tmc.gov.in/ncg/) in 2012 – today it is a network of >200 major cancer centers, research institutes, patient groups and charitable institutions across India. Led very ably by Dr CS Pramesh it has launched and successfully executed a host of collaborative activities – Disease Management Group specific Virtual Tumour Boards, Online second opinion service through Navya, CRedO Workshop for researchers, are just a few of the many initiatives which are ongoing or in development.
REASON THREE – Indian Pediatric Oncology Group (InPOG)
Multicentre collaborative research is critical if India wants to make progress in the care and outcomes of its children with cancer. InPOG (https://www.phoindia.org/cms/inpog-faqs) has been active since the beginning of 2015 and as of December 2019 (in five years) 5543 patients have been recruited in 15 studies (40% interventional and 60% non-interventional studies) from 90 centres. It now enters into its next phase and promises faster and greater developments.
REASON FOUR – Cankids
Driven by the relentless energy of its founder Poonam Bagai, Cankids (https://www.cankidsindia.org/) has blazed the trail in India as well as globally, showcasing how patients, parents and civil society can contribute to childhood cancer care. They not only provide vital social and psychological support for children with cancer and their families, but are leading engagement with state governments on Change for Childhood Cancer in India (http://childhoodcancerindia.blogspot.com/2017/09/supporting-childhood-cancer-treatment.html) and have done a phenomenal amount of work during COVID-19 ensuring that the treatment of patients is not disrupted.
REASON FIVE – Max Healthcare and Max Institute of Cancer Care
My workplace and my employer (https://www.maxhealthcare.in/) have consistently demonstrated, never more than now in these COVID-19 times, that it is possible to deliver high quality care to cancer patients while balancing social responsibility and driving academics and research in the private sector. Solving India’s healthcare challenges would need partners in all sectors of healthcare and Max has shown the way. Thank you Mr Abhay Soi and Dr Harit Chaturvedi for your inspirational leadership