The Optimist Citizen

A doctor’s attempt to give free cancer treatment to the poor in Assam

Barak valley, 350 kms from Guwahati, is a scenic wonder nestled between beautiful hills and stands as a manifestation of nature’s serenity. But when one wanders beyond this curtain of beauty, a grim reality can be encountered here. For years, rising incidents of cancer and associated problems had plagued the valley. In an effort to counteract this, a residents’ collective comprising of activists and other noted citizens supported by the then MP, Mr. Santosh Mohan Dev started a basic community hospital in 1996. Even though, the hospital was a big step forward, it still lacked streamlined funding and had several infrastructural problems. But, the winds of adversities changed their direction when Dr. Ravi Kanan came into the scene.

Dr. Ravi Kanan was working at the Cancer Institute in Adyar, Chennai until 2006. After his unplanned resignation, Dr. Ravi Kanan was offered the opportunity to work in Silchar, Assam. Initially reluctant, he and his wife eventually decide to spend a week in the state which they usually related to floods and Bomb blasts. But this sentiment was upturned soon. The hospitality and the ingenuity of the people coerced Dr. Ravi Kanan and his family to change their mind.

All set and determined they soon confronted the real situation. Initial research showed that the prime reason for the cases on cancer in the region was the excessive tobacco-chewing habit of the people. Poor funding, an underpaid staff, expensive treatment and extreme poverty aggravated the difficulties and became the principal barriers for the better health of the people there. Also, they found out that even after providing free treatment and accommodation, 58 out of every 100 patients never returned for a second visit. Out of the remaining, only 28 ever completed treatment. This happened because more than 80% of the patients were daily wage labourers and sole breadwinners for their families and their families would starve if they underwent yearlong treatments.

Doctor Ravi Kanan giving free treatment to the underprivileged in Assam

They understood that the problem had deeper roots than just the medical peripheries. To provide a solution, two monumental steps were taken. They decided that each patient would be give a follow-up date in their treatment wherein they will contact the patient on phone and they would provide ad hoc employment opportunities to the attendants of the patients.

The steps bore great results. By 2013, 55% of the admitted patients completed treatment. Many new programs like programs like ‘Home Care’, in which patients with advanced cancer are visited and treated by hospital doctors in their homes and like the on-going campaign about a costly drug ‘Trastuzumab’ that is known to heal breast cancer, are also continuously held at the hospital. In 2006, the Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in Silchar had 1 doctor, 6 nurses, 20 beds and a staff of about 23 members. In the year 2016, the hospital has 10 doctors, 105 nurses, about a 100 beds and a team of 250 dedicated members.

Doctor Ravi Kanan with his colleagues

The success behind the hospital can be attributed to Dr. Ravi Kanan selfless vision and his team’s hard work. In his own words, “I think that just because someone is poor, it doesn’t mean they should get second rate care. They too deserve the best possible treatment. If they receive anything less than that, then it is medical fraud.”

It is this statement that lays the foundation for Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Centre. And it is their belief that scientific progress can and should be used prominently for making a difference in the lives of people has helped this cancer hospital become a one stop solution for cancer and related ailments and has saved the lives of thousands.


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