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Let's Talk Health

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Introducing Let's Talk Health, an initiative from Apollo Hospitals, where our endeavor is to share knowledge which you can use to keep yourself and your family fit & healthy.

Let's Talk Health.
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in Child & Care

Childhood Cancer In India: The Social Aspects

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Cancer in children is a major public health issue and represents a significant burden of disease in a developing country such as India. 1.6 to 4.8 per cent of all cancers in India are seen in children below 15 years of age, and the overall incidence is 38 to 124 per million children per year, making a total of about 40,000 children each year being diagnosed with cancer in this country. The cure rates for common cancers in children such as leukaemia, brain tumours, lymphoma, abdominal tumours, muscle and bone tumours have been over 80 per cent in developed countries. Great strides have been made in diagnosis, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, to help achieve these amazing results.

Sadly, outcomes in childhood cancer in our country are abysmal. Lack of access to care, stigma of cancer and financial constraints have been the main reasons to keep our outcomes at an average cure rate of 30 per cent, over last several decades. The economic burden of cancer, including cost of illness, long-term costs and indirect costs, is enormous. We need structured research to improve our understanding of the burden of cancer, and of illness, more generally.

Beating the odds

Sharook* was 15 months old when he was brought to Chennai from Assam with a history of prolonged fever for over three months. The long journey over four days from his hometown to Chennai had made him extremely weak and he needed direct admission into the intensive care unit. He was diagnosed to have acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. He was stabilised and transferred to the ward after three days. The diagnosis, the need for chemotherapy over a period of three years, the side effects of therapy and the cost involved were discussed with the young parents. They had no family support as they had had an inter-caste marriage and had been ostracised by both their families. The father had to work every day to earn a living. A prolonged stay in another city meant no income for the family for about six to eight weeks.

The child had a curable cancer with over 85 per cent chance of cure, but without family support, stay in a new city where access to state of the art care was available meant social isolation in difficult times and enormous expenses. Blood donors were required on a daily basis to help support the sick child and they knew nobody to request assistance. The choice of continuing treatment meant making huge compromises in all other aspects of the couple’s life. Finally, help came in from several charitable organisations and the child completed therapy to make a complete recovery.

Meera* was diagnosed to have a bone tumour involving her right leg at the tender age of six years. It was highly localised and an initial period of chemotherapy for four months followed by removal of the affected bone, could mean that her limb could be salvaged. The other option was to amputate her entire limb! In India, the stigma of having a girl child with an amputated leg is far worse than that of cancer. Chemotherapy also had to be continued after the surgical procedure and the entire treatment would be for one whole year. A healthy joint family ensured that the mother was well supported during the treatment and the father could continue working. Financial assistance was provided by numerous organisations to help Meera avoid amputation and walk back home.

Make a difference

The success stories in childhood cancer in our country are a result of enormous resilience shown by little children and their parents, team effort put in by doctors and nurses in paediatric oncology centres, technological advances in lab diagnosis, life-saving blood donors and several organisations that help provide financial assistance. With a little bit of understanding and compassion, we can make a difference to a life. Our society needs young volunteers as blood donors and companies to adopt childhood cancer as their corporate social responsibility activity. However, even small contributions from each individual to understand the emotional turmoil involved in such treatments, and providing financial aid to help a child complete the treatment, will go a long way in bringing our cure rates at par with western societies.

Little drops of water
Little grains of sand
Make the mighty ocean
And the beauteous land

Little deeds of kindness
Little words of love
Make our earth an Eden
Like the heaven above

And the little moments
Humble though they be
Make the mighty ages
Of eternity
Mrs J A Carrey (1845)

Help make the change today!

 

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