Dr. Purvish M. Parikh, vice president and managing director of AmeriCares India, is an expert in medical oncology and hematology and founder of the Indian Co-operative Oncology Network. Here Dr. Parikh shares with us his personal experiences working with cancer patients in India.
A cancer diagnosis in India is an entirely different experience from what many are familiar with in the United States. No races are run, or ribbons worn. In India, cancer is often perceived as a death sentence – a one-way ticket fraught with pain and suffering. Fortunately, things are slowly changing for the better.
Although cancer rates in India are on the rise with increased tobacco use, poor diet and pollution, the silver lining is that a greater number of patients are seeking treatment due to greater awareness and a willingness to see the doctor. One of the challenges is the lack of medical professionals to treat them. India barely has one oncologist for every 1 million people.
Cancer care is not even available in many parts of the country. When I worked at Tata Memorial Hospital, I’d often have patients from villages as far as the Himalayan Mountains. It took them months to save up for the transportation to the hospital and several days to complete the journey. Yet they always came with hope in their eyes and prayer on their lips.
Another challenge for cancer patients in India is that they are often diagnosed in the late stages, greatly reducing their chances of survival. More than 70 percent of cancer patients in India do not seek treatment until they are extremely ill and the cancer has spread to other organs.
While the conditions are far from ideal, successful treatment is still possible. I recently saw Mrs. K, a patient I diagnosed with multiple myeloma – an incurable but treatable blood cancer – 11 years ago. Today I was pleased to see she is alive and well – a living, breathing testament to the outcomes that are possible with the right medication and course of treatment.
That’s why I am working with AmeriCares to deliver life-saving oncology medicines throughout the country, so that every Indian citizen diagnosed with cancer has the same opportunities as Mrs. K.