Barak Valley, one of the remote corners of Assam has always remained limited in terms of better medical facilities. The high incidence of cancer in the region, possibly due to extensive tobacco use, prompted citizens of the valley to come together and set up a hospital- The Cachar Cancer Hospital.
From the very beginning, the Hospital Society faced multiple challenges, including a severe financial crunch. In fact, the hospital got its first radiation unit and qualified nurse in the year 2006 and 2008 respectively. Due to lack of opportunity, medical students of the valley used to migrate to bigger cities in search of better employment. The hospital continued to reel under all these problems till 2007, when it got a saviour in the form of Dr. Ravi Kannan.
‘When I got the offer to come and work in Assam, my wife was hesitant. But after coaxing her, we came and spent some time here. I worked at the hospital and interacted with the patients. Meanwhile, my wife and daughter mingled with the members of the community. All of us realised that there was much work to be done here and this is where we should be,’ Kannan shared. Dr. Kannan was a renowned oncologist at the Adyar Cancer Institute in Chennai.
‘From day one, we just kept reacting to situations, whether they were related to finance or manpower or infrastructure,’ Kannan said. Over the years, the incredible team managed to turn the place around. From 23 staff to 200-member strong team, also the number of beds has risen from 25- 100 beds. And trained staff from 6 to102.
‘It is his selfless service and vision that has transformed this unknown cancer hospital into a comprehensive cancer centre that is providing free and heavily subsidised treatment to thousands of poor cancer patients every year,’ shared Rajeev Kumar, Dr. Kannan’s colleague.
Over 60% of the patients visiting the hospital have an income of Rs. 3,000 or less per month. As many as 80% are daily wage earners – labourers, tea garden workers and agricultural workers.
With the passing of time, the doctors started going to the villages to provide treatment to cancer patients for which the patients do not have to pay for home-based care and follow up. Slowly, the hospital started satellite clinics for patients who are unable to travel long distances to visit the hospital. The doctors also provide phone consultations and stay in touch with patients who have returned home with prescriptions.
Dr. Kannan and his team discovered yet another way to get the patients to come in by employing those who come as attendants with the patients. These attendants help out in the garden or do other small tasks. Initially they were paid Rs. 30 but now they get about Rs. 100 per day for their work.
According to Dr. Kannan, because of the free food available at the hospital and the opportunity to work, some patients stay behind even after their treatment is completed. At present, the hospital has an annual inflow of 3,000 new and 14,000 follow-up patients. Besides, people from other Northeastern states as well as from neighbouring Bangladesh come here for treatment.