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Paediatric oncology: Three centres open

SepsisPaediatric oncology has witnessed a boon with the opening of three childhood cancer units by the Tata Memorial Centre. 

The push will see the number of children able to access free cancer treatment from the Institute increase to 5,000 by the end of 2020, compared to approximately 2,500 at present. The takeover of hospitals by the Tata Memorial Centre in Guwahati, Varanasi, and Vishakapatnam has enabled this expansion according to sources, with “decentralisation of treatment” providing more convenient avenues for patients and their families to avail oncology treatment. The Tata Memorial Centre is headquartered in Parel, Maharashtra. Establishing facilities in other states will enable more childhood cancer patients to access care without having to travel to Maharashtra. 

India shoulders a significant paediatric oncology burden. As previously reported by Health Issues India, “cancer is one of the major public health challenges facing India. The country is home to the third largest number of people with cancer in the world and the burden is projected to increase in the coming years, with 670,000 new cases of cancer requiring chemotherapy expected by 2040. In India, around 50,000 adolescents and children are diagnosed with cancer each year according to the Indian Cancer Society.” The significant impact of such conditions makes initiatives such as that undertaken by the Tata Memorial Centre of great significance. 

“The idea is to make treatment available for children close to their home instead of families travelling to Mumbai,” commented Dr Sripad Banavali, academics director at the Tata Memorial Centre. “We found 450…children who had never come to Mumbai for a referral had registered for treatment [in Varanasi], pointing to the fact that people are accessing treatment as it is nearer to them,’’ added Dr Girish Chinnaswamy, who heads the paediatric oncology department at the Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital in Varanasi. 

Chinnaswamy also noted that “although there are good treatment options available for children with cancer in India, the majority of these treatments are in tertiary centres located in major cities. Hence, in the new hospitals which are being established, we anticipate that a large number of children with cancer will be able to access care which will significantly improve the outcomes of these children with cancer in these areas. The three cancer centres which are established are standalone comprehensive cancer centres providing all modalities of cancer care under one roof. Another one will soon open in Mullanpur, Punjab.” 

The Tata Memorial Centre also provides other forms of assistance to families with paediatric oncology notes. “Paediatric cancer is highly curable when treated appropriately by not just a medical multi-disciplinary team, but by also providing all necessary support for families to undergo the treatment journey,” said Banavali. “This includes financial, nutrition, accommodation, transfusion and other support. Setting up more centres across India, which provide such holistic care is the need of the hour in the country to tackle the burden of paediatric cancers.” 

Such projects have enjoyed success according to Shalini Jatia, secretary in the Division of Paediatric Oncology of the ImPaCCT Foundation. “The model at Tata Memorial Hospital, led by [the] ImPaCCT Foundation, has been very successful over the last many years, in providing holistic care and other support to children and their families in Mumbai. This has not only improved the cure rate of childhood cancer to over seventy percent, but also significantly decreased the refusal and abandonment of treatment by families. 

“This has also been possible by establishing of partnership with our stakeholders — both government and non-government agencies, who are committed to the cause. Such a tried and tested model should be replicated by regional centres across the country so that the majority of the children diagnosed with childhood cancers are able to complete treatment successfully with minimal disruption to the rest of the family.”

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