Childhood cancer success – India is far behind

“Working towards better health outcomes combining Behavior science and Artificial Intelligence”

In writing this article, I wish to bring to your attention lesser known facts regarding childhood cancer in India. The reason I really feel so intently writing about this is, I feel there is a need to increase awareness around childhood cancer success rate. By bringing recognition to this significant issue of childhood cancer, I believe we can turn the picture around. Turn night into day, grey clouds into beautiful rainbow, create opportunity for the little seedlings to grow into stronger trees and buds into beautiful flowers.

There is a lot of awareness around breast and other types of cancer but how many people know only 3% of all cancers occur in children. Childhood cancers are curable, the cure rates are 80 to 95% and go even as high as 99%. Unfortunately, these numbers are only translated into reality in developed countries. Sadly, this is not the case in India. The disturbing reality we face in India is one where 4 out of 5 Indian children do not survive cancer. On top of that India has the highest prevalence of childhood cancer given 30 per cent of India’s population is below 14 years.

In an interview with India Today on why the cure rate of cancer among kids is extremely low in India, Oncologist Vivek Agarwala said: “Probably, the government and society at large are not considering it a big problem as it is just around 5 percent. We are always campaigning for breast and cervical cancers. We must remember this 5 percent of cancer is majorly curable if given proper treatment.” He further added that, the cure rate is high in children and these kids could lead a productive long life, making the effort in treating them even more worthwhile and fulfilling.

Now a little story on how I got interested in collecting data and facts around this issue… I was always invested in donating for institutions helping kids, our future generation. I sincerely believe no kid should be denied Education and Health on this planet and we all should do whatever is in our capacity to make that a reality. I had been donating to such causes and had donated for Access Life, its co-founder is an old friend of mine. I knew they were doing great work. On one of my trips to India I happened to visit the Access Life Centre. There I met this little boy Pranav (pictures below) who had battled cancer, made a strong recovery and was heading back home. The facility where the boy and his family stayed was clean, neatly kept, and had responsible caretakers filled with love and care. It was amazing to see that my donation was directly empowering kids like Pranav with the gift of life. After witnessing the impact of a simple donation on the life of a child, I was immediately invested in learning more about how we could help these kids, as I learned more it became evident that India was far behind in the cure rate. It was extremely disappointing to find out 4 out 5 Children don’t make it and usually these kids are underprivileged coming from rural areas all over India to Tata Memorial. These kids lose their lives not due to cancer but due to other factors some of which are no place to stay and hygiene.

As Americans, we enjoy a reliable health care system that will support the citizens of its country. It is easy to forget that many cannot enjoy the same blanket of security we enjoy here. In India, children with cancer must travel long distances to receive their treatment. If they cannot afford a place to live for its duration, which can often last 6 -7 months, they can be seen living outside on the unhygienic, impoverished streets outside the hospital. Going through cancer treatment is hard enough on a family, and nobody deserves to go through the treatment without a proper place to live. So many families abandon the treatment or suffer negative outcomes with other infections.

I learned that AccessLife has a mission dedicated to fixing this problem. They provide families a place to stay, love and transportation to hospital. My friend told me how Anuska, then 7, was one of the first brave-hearts who came for treatment and stayed at their Centre. Anuska has since then been visiting us in Mumbai for her follow-ups and is now a beautiful 14-year teenager who has been through many struggles but emerged victorious. She is a confident young lady who exhibits courage, hope and the grit to overcome all obstacles and take life head on. What an incredible journey!

My goal is to help bring India’s childhood cancer success rate equal to other developed countries. There are many Anuska’s and Pranav’s in India and I strive to help them all. Feel free to email me if you want to do the same at hapte5@yahoo.com.

You can find out more about Access Life on their website: https://accesslifeamerica.org/ 

–Hemangi Apte

Senior Director of Engineering at Lirio