Cancer not only names a disease but is also a synonym for the battle against one’s own body to win over life.
In India, according to various surveys and studies, approximately 39% of Indians are diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetime. Every year, around 7 lakh people are diagnosed, and, more than 4.2 lakh people lose their battle against the disease. These barbaric figures cannot be ignored; and therefore, it makes cancer awareness a very important issue.
Science and medicine have come a long way; and due to the various advancements, it is now possible to treat cancer, if detected, at the right time. There are a number of cases when doctors have been successful in treating the patients even after delayed diagnosis and detection. According to a study, on an average, a patient waits for 271 days (almost 9 months) before consulting friends/family or doctors about the symptoms and signs. This waiting period is a major cause for the increased mortality rate among cancer patients.
Social stigma around being sick and unhealthy has a major role to play behind the delay before and after the diagnosis. As a cancer patient, the stigma is further worse. A major element of a patient’s insecurities is the fear of being discriminated. Although it sounds bizarre, it is a fact that people discriminate against cancer patients by denying them welfare opportunities which ultimately excludes them from the society. It is this fear that grows with the ignorant behavior of the society that surrounds the patients which in the end becomes the main barrier for cancer awareness and prevention. Renowned Indian cricketer and a lung cancer survivor – Yuvraj Singh, regardless of his social status, faced this social stigma first-hand and acknowledged it in an interview.
It is true that one cannot completely understand the suffering until and unless s/he herself/himself is the sufferer, but that does not imply that we forget our responsibilities and duties towards the patient and the care-giving family. As a responsible citizen, it is a moral, as well as a legal obligation, to provide social and emotional support to those who are struggling to fight against the social stigma, fear, grief, stress and other trauma which are accompanied with the growing cancer within their bodies.
Cancer is neither a choice nor a privilege that comes with education and job. It is a crisis that can strike anybody at any point of time during their life. In a country where the rate of illiteracy is relatively high and a large number of people are still living in poverty, it is necessary that cancer patients and their caregivers are made well aware of their rights and benefits, as awarded by constitution and the government of India.
Inequality on the basis of color, sex, caste, religion, age, natural origin, sexual preferences, handicap, diagnosis, ability to pay and mode of payment is illegal. The following section lists down the rights of every patient:
The struggle against the disease is a costly affair and most of the families drop the treatment due to lack of availability of funds. More than 7 lakh people are being diagnosed with cancer every year, however, less than 30% of them are able to afford the treatment. Even though India is known to provide cheap treatments as compared to its other counterparts in the developed and the developing world, the cost of cancer treatment is still high considering the average income of its own citizens.
To support the underprivileged cancer patients and their families, the government has enacted several schemes such as the Prime Minister National Relief Funds (PMNRF), in order to provide financial help. Rashtriya Arogya Nidhi Scheme and The State Illness Assistance fund has been set up by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare to provide a quantum of ₹150,000 for those patients who are below the poverty line. Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS) helps the retired central government employees and their dependents to get quality treatment at reasonable prices. Several private hospitals provide cancer treatment as per the rates of Tata Memorial Hospital for cancer surgery under the scheme.
Railway concession:Cancer patients are provided free tickets (100% concession) by the Railway ministry when travelling for their treatment. The companion is also entitled to a concession of 75% of the total cost of the Class-II ticket fare.
Flight Concession: 50% of the total costof the ticket is waived off for a cancer patient when travelling for the purpose of medical treatment / check-up.
Other than these schemes, several non-governmental organizations around the country, such as, Indian Cancer Society, Support Group Cancer Sahyog, YouWeCan, HelpAge India and many more are actively working to generate awareness and financial help for those who are unable to afford the expensive treatment. These NGOs and support groups play a vital role in cultivating cancer awareness and help the patients and survivors fight against the social stigma and discrimination that they face on a daily basis.
Several advancements have been made on medical front against cancer. However, it will be a long time before we are able to eradicate the disease and the stigma around it. Cancer patients and survivors always live with the fear of remission; and therefore, the society continues to discriminate against cancer patients, even if, subconsciously. It is time that we address the elephant in the room to ensure a slightly more comfortable process of undergoing treatment and rehabilitation of these patients. Early diagnosis can only happen with proper education and awareness about the disease – something that we still lack as a society. Hopefully, in the near future, we are able to generate enough awareness with respect to this painful and deadly disease.
By Tanshi Sahu
Guest Author and Student of Law
Cancer India Organization – Financial Aid and Resources | Ernst & Young – Publication – Call for Action: Expanding Cancer Care in India | National Institutes of Health – Multiple Stakeholder Perspectives on Cancer Stigma in North India
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