Devasish Sharma

As they say, “Sow a thought and reap an act; Sow an act and reap a habit; Sow a habit and reap a character; Sow a character and reap a destiny.”

Our commitment to act has always led to bringing about the much-needed change in our society which in turn had led to progress. The campaign ‘I am and I will’ was introduced for the first time in 2019 with the sole aim of encouraging the crusaders against cancer to reflect on what they could do to reduce the impact of cancer upon themselves, the community they live in and the world at large. This new theme serves as a powerful reminder that no matter who we are, we all have a positive and important role to play in creating a world free of cancer.

On this day two years back, a campaign was built to resonate, inspire change and mobilize action for the war against cancer. A campaign such as this designed over a period of few years offers a chance to create a long-lasting impact on the desired goals by increasing public exposure and engagement, along with more opportunities to build global awareness and impact driven action.

To highlight a few important aspects, it can be said that as cancer cases keep mounting by the day, we need to create awareness about the significance of cancer notification at the state health authority level in order to help the core issues related to cancer prevention, control and cure. This will strengthen the national cancer registry project of the ICMR with regard to its policy implementation.

As for the advantages of declaring cancer as a notifiable disease, the first and foremost advantage of that is there would be early detection of cancer and therefore the outcome of treatment will definitely be better. The irony however is that cancer is labelled to be incurable to a great extent because in our country 80% of the cases come in at very late stages where not only the outcome of treatment is not up to the mark, but in a race to somehow get treated, there is heavy expenditure incurred by the patient as well as the State governments. By cancer notification, the State comes to know the quantum of new cases of cancer which keep adding on year after year. It also creates a data base of how many healthy people in the State are at risk of becoming diseased. The record thus collected shall help the health authorities and policy-makers to slowly zero in on the primary causes of cancer within a State and thereby ascertain how they can be prevented. For example, the rampant abuse of pesticides in agricultural produce, air and water pollution, consumption of tobacco products and betel nuts, lifestyle changes, food habits, consumption of very hot beverages (like hot tea and steaming rice) lack of proper hygiene, genetic factors, etc., could be interesting areas to explore. These areas are vital pointers towards which more attention is highly desirable. We do need more and more hospitals for cancer cure but parallely, it is equally important to develop a mechanism to create effective cancer awareness and screening programmes which will prove to be a major weapon in the arsenal against cancer.

Depending on hard-core statistically-proven knowledge, the State will have to start a ‘cleansing procedure’ to remove cancer causing agents. Northeast India is now ‘India’s cancer capital’. The reason for this is a combination of lifestyle choices, low awareness and late detection. Apart from this, there is an acute lack of specialists and adequate treatment infrastructure – hospitals (government and private), diagnostic centres, early screening facilities, etc. Sadly, even though the north-eastern region has a very high rate of cancer incidence compared to the rest of the country, a number of adequately equipped treatment centres is abysmally low. This being one of the important reasons why patients need to move to centres of treatment outside the region, one would reiterate that it is not that we don’t have good hospitals and specialists but sadly enough, the numbers are extremely low.

Fixing the north-eastern cancer crisis is not a one man job. It requires the cumulative efforts of policy-makers, hospitals (government and private), administrative bodies, medical organizations and NGOs to bring about a much-needed change.

The onus of fighting the battle against cancer more effectively also lies with the society at large. People need to adopt healthier lifestyle habits, shun tobacco from their lives and lead a physically active life. Only then can we win this battle.

The New Year 2021, the final year of the ‘I am and I will’ campaign, brings to light that our actions have an impact on everyone around us, within our neighbourhoods, communities, cities and towns. And that more than ever before our actions are also being felt across borders and oceans. This year is a reminder of the enduring power of cooperation and collective action. When we choose to join hands, we can achieve what we all wish for – a healthier and brighter world without cancer. Together, all our actions matter on this World Cancer Day, who you are and what you will do shall determine the destiny of generations to come.

(Published on the occasion of World Cancer Day today.)