A pioneering move in medical history was made in 1941 when Tata Trusts translated their philanthropic sentiments into reality through the creation of Tata Memorial Hospital as “a beacon of hope for the hopeless”. This was the first of many such path-breaking endeavours by the Trusts in the field of cancer care. In 1962, Tata Memorial Hospital was handed over to the Ministry of Health in the interest of the nation. Over the years, the Trusts’ vision and drive to fight this dreaded disease has been evident through its several initiatives, the chief among them being the development of Tata Medical Center in Kolkata in 2012. It has been set up considering the high cancer prevalence in eastern and north-eastern states and to combat the lack of suitable facilities in the region. Both the hospitals have been engaged in education and research in oncology to improve treatment modalities. They also support systems that improve access to affordable methods for treatment.
Increasingly, the Trusts have recognised the need to shift focus from curative to preventive programmes in order to detect the disease as early as possible and reduce the ensuing morbidity and mortality caused by the disease. As a result, the Trusts have embarked upon several initiatives, including supporting the Department of Atomic Energy and Tata Memorial Center in the formation of the National Cancer Grid. This Grid is a network of major cancer centres, research institutes, patient groups and charitable institutions across India with the mandate of establishing uniform standards of patient care for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. These institutes provide specialised training and education in oncology and facilitate collaborative basic, translational and clinical research in cancer. The Trusts also support in conducting a proof-of-concept in cross-subsidised screening programmes for common cancers. The purpose of all initiatives, including exploring the possibilities of genetic tests, is to ensure greater awareness and accessibility to cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment.
In order to shift the diagnosis from a later stage to an early stage cancer, the Trusts are working on a four pronged strategy:
The donations are intended to be deployed to strengthen the government system to promote cancer prevention and early detection, thus making a systemic change and bring benefits to all sections of the society. Specifically, the funds will be used for upgradation of existing facilities at the sub-centres and primary health care centres and training of human resources at these sites. The initial focus will be in the states of Maharashtra, Assam, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh where the Trusts have been actively partnering to support cancer prevention and NCD screening programmes.
To provide affordable and equitable cancer care through technology and to support the development of specialised human resources, the Trusts are actively supporting the Department of Atomic Energy and Tata Memorial Center in operationalising the National Cancer Grid which is a network of 140 cancer centres, research institutes, patient groups and charitable institutions working in the area of cancer care across India. The purpose is to increase the training capacity for allied cancer care professionals and develop low-cost methods for screening and early detection of cancer. The platform will connect all hospitals and act as a central portal which will allow easier patient movement across facilities, ongoing learning and education of healthcare workers, and research collaboration across doctors and institutions.
Assam reports more than 30,000 cases of cancer annually and the number is projected to increase significantly in the coming years. Nearly 70 percent of reported cases are in an advanced stage of the disease, leading to a high mortality rate. The problem of high incidence and late detection is further exacerbated by a dearth of infrastructure and skilled manpower. To address this grave situation, the Trusts formed the Assam Cancer Care Foundation in December 2017, in a joint partnership with the Government of Assam (GoA), and have created a unique three-level cancer grid in the state. Click here to read more
Tata Trusts, in association with Tata Memorial Centre, pioneered the launch of a much-needed Respite Palliative Care facility in November 2015. The facility, a first-of-its-kind in India, aims to provide relief to cancer patients in severe pain, supportive care and relief during treatment, and end-of-life care as well as required support to caregivers. The Centre is expected to cater to around 1,500 adults as well as 200 children and their families in a year.
Given that 70 percent of cancer cases in India are detected at late stages, health promotion, cancer awareness and early detection are key focus areas for the Trusts. Tata Trusts have been working with the Government of India and multiple state governments to operationalise the screening programme for NCD which includes three common cancers (oral, breast and cervix). As part of this, the Trusts have supported the development of a digital platform for NCD screening in collaboration with the Dell Foundation. Furthermore, the Trusts, in association with Prashanti Cancer Care Mission and Swasth India, have embarked on the largest screening of its kind in India for breast and cervical cancer, using state-of-the-art technology led mobile vans which are fully equipped to run the screenings and other minor procedures. The purpose is for it to be a guiding initiative for replication and institutionalisation in India, with the end goal being downstaging cancer incidence and reducing the morbidity and mortality ensuing from the disease.
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