Affordable cancer care project launched in Maharashtra

To make cancer care accessible to people living in districts and bring down the incidence of its preventable forms, the Maharashtra government along with the Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) on Thursday unveiled their 'affordable cancer care for all' project.

The larger goal is to ensure patients don't have to trek to Mumbai with families in tow, putting their lives and livelihoods on hold for cancer treatment.

Funded by pharmaceutical firm Mylan as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, the project's first phase - which involves training and sensitising doctors, nurses and technicians at district hospitals - is already being implemented in Pune, Nashik, Amravati, Jalgaon, Nagpur and Gadchiroli.

Aundh Hospital in Pune will be scaled up to a super-specialty hospital as part of the project and work on it has already begun, officials said. The project will be later scaled up at the 24 district hospitals in Maharashtra.

In its second phase, training on screening, diagnosis, early detection and administering chemotherapy will be given to physicians associated with district hospitals. Scaling up of existing public health facilities, and even having a 100-bed cancer wing along with a district hospital, is planned as part of the project.

Speaking at the launch, Maharashtra's principal secretary, health, Sujata Saunik said in Mumbai that cancer treatment is expensive, which makes prevention and early detection important to check the financial burden on patients.

She said it is critical for district hospitals to not just offer counselling, but also create awareness. ''They should ensure that all patients coming to district hospitals get treatment in a timely manner, which will in turn prevent the patient load on Tata Memorial Hospital.''

In September 2015, the state government along with TMH launched Maharashtra Cancer Warriors, a group of 45 surgical oncologists who had undergone training at TMH and who had settled in different parts of the state. They were roped in to associate with district hospitals and provide their services for free. They have been holding weekly OPDs.

When Mylan showed interest in scaling up this project, the state's health department and TMH planned the entire project.

The project will entail short-term and long-term training. ''Surgeons and physicians will be trained here for four to six weeks in the basics of oncology. Since they are already physicians and surgeons, they will be trained on evidence-based protocol. Nurses too will be trained,'' said Dr K S Sharma, director, academics, TMH.

Once trained and equipped, public hospitals will be able to take care of patients at the district level itself. ''If the best treatment is available at the home-level, they will not need to come to TMH,'' said Dr Sharma.

Training will be given in cervical oncology, medical oncology, radiotherapy, palliative care, anaesthesia, pathology. A three-month training will ensure doctors are abreast of advanced techniques, said Dr Sharma.

Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck cancer surgeon at TMH, said the project involved capacity building of the existing facilities, with a bit of tweaking of infrastructure to include oncology. The project aims at first preventing cancer, but the ultimate aim is to detect cancer in Stage I and not Stage IV, which is commonly the stage at which patients land at TMH.