WHILE India struggles with the Coronavirus pandemic, other serious and prolonged illnesses have been ignored. Childhood cancer is one of them. India has the highest prevalence of the disease in the world, with a child diagnosed every 12 minutes.
Cancer in children is rare and biologically very different from cancer in adults. But it is among the 10 most common causes of death in children of the 5 to 14 age group in our country. The occurrence is low in developing countries but, sadly, so is the survival rate. As compared to other diseases, the lower incidence of childhood cancers in India, especially in leukaemia and central nervous system (CNS) tumours, is likely due to delay in recognition. And sadly, childhood cancer is seen more frequently in boys due to the gender bias in seeking care in India.
Odds stacked against children with cancer in India
Factors such as poor awareness, delayed diagnosis, and treatment abandonment due to high cost are major hurdles in managing this deadly disease. This is especially true in rural areas with a scarcity of cancer care centres. All this contributes unfairly to the fatality rate of childhood cancer, which is almost 90% curable in the west. In India four out of five children don’t make it beyond five years of diagnosis.
Cancer can devastate families. The pain and the struggle that the little children experience is beyond cruel. Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA) is trying to change these heartbreaking statistics. Sahara Shah was three years old when diagnosed with blood cancer. CPAA helped her mother manage the treatment and ensured the toddler received the full care required for her cure. Today, at 20, Sahara is a budding actress in Bollywood, having shared the screen with the late Sushant Singh Rajput in Dil Bechara.
CPAA is a 51-year-old non-profit organization that helps ‘Total Management of Cancer’. Since the arrival of COVID-19, young patients living with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy face the added risk of being infected with coronavirus due to their depleted immune systems.
Good nutrition boosts chances of survival
Many children with cancer have to travel hundreds of kilometers to reach treatment centres. By then the family would have spent most of their money visiting various doctors and reaching diagnosis before they are referred to cancer care hospitals. Though childhood cancers are curable, about 40% of the children in India are found to be severely malnourished at diagnosis. That makes their survival difficult.
Nutrition majorly affects how children respond to cancer treatment. Healthy diets give their young bodies the strength to withstand harsh treatments like chemotherapy. Cuddles Foundation is another non profit that works to improve nutrition in child cancer patients with their Food Heals programme. Through the program it provides them with supplements, hot meals, fruits, eggs and ration baskets so they can grow stronger and respond well to the treatment.
The nutritionists at Cuddles assess a child’s malnourishment level as well as their medical condition and create customised diet plans. They also monitor the patients’ progress and counsel mothers or caregivers. Cuddles helps provide food and nutrition to children in over 30 government and charity cancer hospitals across India.
Your donation can impact young lives
September is the month for Childhood Cancer Awareness and we are fundraising to save these vulnerable lives. Let’s celebrate all these little warriors and empower them in their fight for life. One month’s treatment costs ₹5,000 per patient and it includes immediate medical assistance, chemotherapies and life-saving drugs.
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Samar is a Marketing Communications specialist and freelance writer. She has a master’s in marketing and creativity from ESCP Business School. She is an avid traveler and likes to write about technology, travel, wildlife and sustainability.