Cancer survivors to organise rally to collect 3 lakhs signatures
New Delhi: Eight cancer survivors are raring to hit the dusty tracks in Punjab and Chandigarh to spread the message of preventing childhood cancer and collect 300,000 signatures to appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make paediatric cancer a child health priority.
Among the rallyists will be Muskaan, 17, a survivor of bone tumor from Zirakpur in Punjab, who is excited about zipping around Chandigarh's wide and smooth roads during the four-day caravan, starting Sept 24, that will cover 1,400 kilometres across 18 districts of the state.
She had earlier led a team of volunteers to meet Punjab Governor V.S. Badnore and pinned a gold ribbon on his shirt to seek support for the cause.
"Governor sir was so excited when we told him about our plan to carry banners, posters and placards on vehicles to tell people that childhood cancer is curable," Muskaan said.
Bandnore has announced that the Chandigarh Administration and the Punjab Government would jointly launch a mass awareness campaign and raise awareness about cancer in children.
Cankids, an NGO that is a major player in the space, has previously held similar "Go Gold" childhood cancer awareness rallies in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. During their rally in Punjab, the Cankids survivor group will stage street plays, distribute publicity material and pamphlets related to early signs of cancer and the nearest centres for detection and treatment.
"For every child that dies of cancer, the world loses 71 years of life on an average," said Muskaan, adding that early detection is the key to a cure.
Cankids Director Poonam Bagai said, "September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month during which Punjab is going gold. Gold is the colour of childhood cancer. The gold ribbon honours children with cancer and their families and pledges support for childhood cancer to be a child health priority."
"During the rally, the survivors will drive across Punjab to sensitise people and focus on childhood cancers, create awareness and initiate a dialogue among stakeholders to ensure best treatment, care and support to kids in Punjab," said Bagai.
Along the rally's route, the campaigners will also hold awareness programmes at the state's nodal hospitals such as the PGI in Chandigarh, the Christian Medical College and Hospital in Ludhiana, Advanced Cancer Centre in Bhatinda and Government Medical College in Patiala, she said.
It is estimated that Punjab accounts for 969 to the 1,543 new cases of childhood cancer each year (0-19 years) as per data from International Association of Cancer Registries (IARC), Geneva. In Union Territory Chandigarh, at least 35 new childhood cancer cases are reported each year, she added.
Bagai said that worldwide, more than 300,000 (0-19 years) children and adolescents are diagnosed annually with one of 16 forms of childhood cancers. Out of these, 40-50,000 (age 0-15 years) are diagnosed in India.
Cankids Society CEO Sonal Sharma said under the "Go Gold India" campaign, survivors are pinning gold ribbons and collecting 300,000 signatures/pledges -- one for each child diagnosed with cancer worldwide.
"Last year the Taj went Gold to speak for children with cancer and their families. This year, it will be the Golden Temple as our childhood cancer survivors advocate for childhood cancer to be a child health priority in India," she said.
In the run-up to the rally, Cankids worked closely with Punjab government's departments of health and family welfare and medical education and research to organise the First Paediatric Oncology Stakeholder Sensitisation Workshop for childhood cancer at Patiala.
Punjab Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh lent the government's support to the initiative, hoping it raises survival rates in the state and the rest of the country, where only 40 per cent of children with cancer survive against the global average of 95 per cent.
An MoU was also signed between the Punjab government and Cankids Society. Cankids, using its own funding, will now serve as a knowledge and support partner to the state government on matters relating to childhood cancers.
"The Punjab government has decided to identify children with cancer and offer them cashless treatment at 18 designated centres," said Bagai.
While global survival rates for childhood cancers are 70-95 per cent, in India, 50-70 per cent still die of the disease, primarily due to lack of awareness, stigma, poor information and access to care, inadequate treatment centres, lack of trained health professionals, quality drugs, high costs of treatment and lack of supportive care.
Kapil Chawla, a Hodgkin's survivor and CanKids advocacy officer, said: "The rally and awareness campaign is an effort to engage the Punjab government and civil society to open cancer awareness units for patients in the state's nodal hospitals."
Amita Mahajan, senior consultant at Apollo's paediatric oncology division who has been associated with Cankids for 13 years, said: "The advocacy campaign involving bureaucrats, doctors, patient groups and cancer survivors aims to make provide care to every child afflicted with this deadly disease."
Cankids Kidscan is a national society which works for children with cancer through 46 centres spread across the country. It helps bridge the gap between needy cancer patients and paediatric cancer units and extends financial support to 18,500 families.
Since November 2012, the society has been imparting education in hospitals through three cancer speciality homes and a CanKids CanShale for children.