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World Cancer Day: How Nargis Dutt Foundation is Educating India on Cancer

How a nonprofit is educating India on cancer

World Cancer Day is celebrated every year on February 4. It is a global initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).

World Cancer Day aims to raise awareness and understand all aspects of cancer. It is also a reminder for governments worldwide of this issue.

We had an insightful conversation with Ms. Priya Dutt, Trustee, Nargis Dutt Foundation. It is a nonprofit that helps the underprivileged navigate through cancer in India.

Where does India stand when it comes to cancer awareness?

Priya Dutt: India has a long way to go with cancer.

Here, we have dealt with so many other illnesses in the past. We managed to eradicate polio. A campaign for TB is on right now.

In the same way, creating awareness about cancer is very important.

The greatest fear in anyone when the word cancer comes is death. It is a myth that should be taken out of people’s minds because we consistently advance in medical facilities and technologies.

India has come forth in medicine today. It wasn’t like this 30-40 years ago, but today, things have changed. There are new treatments and more advanced kinds of chemotherapies. Thus, that fear needs to be removed from people’s minds.

We need to promote regular checkups. Self-breast examinations checkups for prostate, lungs or other cancers should be done regularly.

The second fear is the expense of the treatment. We need to ensure that cancer treatment comes with some help to combat this. The government also has to go on that front today.

Immunotherapy is very big, but it’s typically unaffordable for an Indian. We still focus on chemotherapy, but sometimes chemotherapy may not work for a patient.

On the other hand, immunotherapy may work very well for a patient. But we cannot offer that because it is expensive. Bone marrow transplant is costly, but that is, again, life-saving. So there are many factors. Thus, awareness is critical to reaching out to the poorest of the poor and every level of society.

How does the Nargis Dutt Foundation close the cancer care gap in India?

Priya Dutt: Nargis Dutt Foundation began in 1981 that was right after my mom passed away with cancer.

While she was sick, she and my father realized that they were privileged. And that’s why they could get her to the United States for her treatment.

 It got them thinking about the millions of people in India who don’t have access to any sort of medical facilities. Half the people didn’t even know what cancer was at that time.

So, that’s where the idea began – how can we bring cancer care to India to help these people.

My father and the Indian community set up the first chapter of this foundation in New York. They started by raising funds for equipping rural hospitals in India with cancer detection and cancer treatment equipment. We worked very closely with the Tata Memorial Hospital. The first ICU built in the Tata Memorial Hospital was with the contribution of the Nargis Dutt Foundation.

We have equipped more than 100 rural hospitals with the required equipment. Also, the first bone marrow transplant in India was done through our foundation.

We worked was very transparent because the money would go directly to Siemens, whom we had partnered with for equipment. Who would further supply the equipment to the hospitals

After a while, we realized that we needed to start raising funds in India because India had grown tremendously. Though hospitals were well-equipped now, cancer treatment was still costly. And we thought, how can we contribute and ensure that people don’t lose their life because they don’t have money for the treatment.

We started our intervention with other hospitals and started funding chemotherapy cycles for poor patients. We wanted to ensure that the treatment didn’t stop. In cancer treatment, consistency is essential. Cancer is a kind of disease where there should not be delays. If you are detected with cancer, the treatment must start immediately. The more time you waste, the higher the probability of cancer spreading all over your body. The treatment then becomes more expensive and complicated.

So with these hospitals, we wanted to ensure that the treatment continues. Along with that, we also began counseling patients and families. We do so because there is a considerable lacuna in our system. When a person is diagnosed, that patient and their family are wholly lost. They are clueless about what to do. And our doctors are so overwhelmed with work that they cannot spend much time with each patient answering all their concerned questions.

Therefore it’s essential that NGOs, like us, come in and help. Just holding someone’s hand and saying everything will be okay makes a huge difference. It accelerates one’s wellness. We’ve seen excellent results with that.

What role does society play in cancer awareness?

Priya Dutt: First of all, our society is very divided. Different sections in our community need to be addressed differently.

The educated lot need to take care of themselves. Everybody’s so caught up in being a workaholic and making money. But what is the use of all this if your body gives up? Would your money mean anything at all?

This understanding is crucial.

 Educated middle-class and upper-middle-class people need to understand this. Additionally, they should incorporate it in their yearly checkups. Get a mammogram, pap smear and a prostate check done.

We see more than 200-300 patients a day. We know that it is curable with the proper test done at the right time.

How was your experience with Goodera and beneficiaries?

Priya Dutt: It’s beautiful what you’re doing.

Our organization is over 40 years old. We’ve never really had a budget for promoting our foundation or creating awareness programs. 90% of whatever money that comes in is spent on the projects. We trim all the excess fat so that the collected money reaches the beneficiaries.

It becomes our responsibility that the donors entrust us with their money; that money should go for what they have donated. I think that is very, very important. And that’s how we have functioned for the last 40 years and created a huge impact.

Goodera has helped us expand our reach while still staying true to our values and vision.

How can potential volunteers help your organization create more awareness?

Priya Dutt: Because of COVID, virtual meetings have become easy now. As a result, we started getting many volunteers.

We have over 300 students, even those in higher education as well. Now, a company has sent volunteers to mentor each student. So that is amazing.

These students needed direction and guidance at a point in their lives. Now, they, as volunteers, will be taking on a student one-to-one and mentoring them.

In the same way with cancer care, counseling is necessary for patients and their families. I think that is where volunteers make a tremendous amount of difference.

Any final message for the people who would be listening to this interview?

Priya Dutt: Volunteering is one of the most significant needs today for all organizations.

And as a volunteer or as someone who wants to do something, I get many people who ask how they can help. Well, you can contribute in monetary ways. There is no such thing as too little. It could be half an hour of your time; it could be a hundred rupees a month; it could be whatever you feel you’re able to do.

But I think it’s essential that people take some time from their hectic lives and do something constructive. This can help make a big difference in someone else’s life.

I think that’s the best way of showing gratitude to the universe. It’s like saying I have everything; let me share something with someone who doesn’t. So I think that is very important and I am very hopeful.

 Today, I see a lot of youngsters out there who have that feeling in them. I feel hopeful that there has been a shift, and things will change soon.

Celebrate World Cancer Day with Goodera

We hope that this interview helped you understand the importance of raising awareness for cancer. Get in touch with our team and share your Impact Story on our platform.

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