By the end of next year, cancer hospitals under Tata Memorial Centre will cater to an increased number of paediatric cancer patients.
While Parels Tata Memorial Hospital registers an average of 3,200 paediatric cancer patients up to 18 years of age, doctors said they will be able to increase the number to 5,000 with evolved cancer centres in Guwahati, Visakhapatnam and Varanasi. A new centre in Punjab, which will be ready by 2020, will also take a considerable load.
TMHs academic director Dr. Shripad Banavali said the idea is to reach patients instead of having them travel all the way to Mumbai. The B. Barooah Cancer Institute in Guwahati has been seeing many patients already. The Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital in Varanasi is now partially functional but has already started seeing over 500 paediatric patients since January, said Dr. Banavali. Although the first phase of the Vishakapatnam centre will start operations next year, it has already started treating patients.
The initial perception was that the load in Mumbai will come down as the new centres become operational. But that does not appear to be the case. The number of patients will double rapidly, said Girish Chinnaswamy, head of paediatric oncology at TMH. For example, our Varanasi centre has registered about 500 patients, of which only about 50 were directed from Mumbai to take treatment closer to their home. The rest are all fresh registrations, he said.
Due to the lack of a robust paediatric cancer registry, the exact number of cases is not known. But it is said that there are an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 new cases in India every year. Experts believe that not all patients reach hospitals and there is a huge treatment gap.
The new centres will replicate the TMHs holistic care approach, where a child is not just offered cancer treatment but also other support.
We are trying to set up a similar model in all centres so that patients do not refuse treatment or drop out mid-way due to problems like expenses and accommodation, said Shalini Jatia, secretary, ImPaCCT (Improving Paediatric Cancer Care and Treatment) Foundation at TMH. The foundation was established in 2010 to ensure that every child coming to the hospital gets treatment, irrespective of financial background.
It collects funds from government schemes, philanthropists and corporate social responsibility efforts. We have already started diverting some funds for children taking treatment in Varanasi, said Ms. Jatia.