Survival rates can go up to 70% or more if treatment for childhood cancer is multidisciplinary and includes proper nutrition at the right time, as per Cuddles Foundation report titled Childhood Cancer in India.
Cuddles Foundation a not-for-profit organization focused on bringing holistic food and nutrition to underprivileged children fighting cancer in government cancer hospitals, recently released the first organized assessment conducted in India on the impact of good nutrition on children with cancer titled, “Childhood Cancer In India”.
About 50,000 children, between 0 to 19 years, are diagnosed with cancer every year in India. One of the known primary challenges for the lower cure rate was that approximately 40% of child cancer patients in India are malnourished at the time of diagnosis.
The severity of malnutrition at the time of cancer diagnosis puts children at a greater risk of infection, side effects, complications and treatment delays. Unfortunately, 40% of them are malnourished at the time of cancer diagnosis.
“This report highlights the crucial role nutrition plays in getting children fighting cancer closer to a cure. Hopefully, we can bring people together to support more government hospitals to have dedicated paediatric nutritionists and food aid as part of their treatment protocol. Perhaps, mandatory nutritional counseling for all childhood cancer patients is something clinicians can ask for and implement. Finally, we hope this report encourages researchers to further study the impact of nutrition on childhood cancer so that children have a better chance at a cure,” informed Purnota Dutta Bahl, Founder & CEO, Cuddles Foundation.
“At Cuddles Foundation, our FoodHeals program bridges the nutrition gap in children with cancer in 35 hospitals across India. In the last financial year 2020-2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Cuddles Foundation treated over 6000+ patients and conducted over 1 lakh counseling sessions. Through our FoodHeals App, we could assess the impact of nutrition on these patients. Despite cancer therapy like chemotherapy and radiation, 80% of patients improved or maintained their nutritional status. Also, 94% of patients we counselled returned for a second visit or continued treatment. We have noticed in our experience on-ground that well-nourished patients tolerate treatment better, experience primarily minor side effects, have fewer treatment delays, and have a faster recovery time,” Bahl added.
Unfortunately, childhood cancer cannot be prevented or detected through regular screening, but generic medicine and therapy, including chemotherapy and radiation, can cure most childhood cancers. Yet, in low and middle-income countries, like India, an estimated 15-45% of children are cured of cancer as compared to more than 80% in high income countries.
Talking about the challenges faced during the lockdown to sustain the programmes and initiatives with hospitals focusing on COVID patients, Bahl said, “Covid and the lockdowns affected attendance at the hospital. Covid also pulled much of the healthcare staff for COVID duty. There were strict physical distancing protocols which can be complicated when you’re treating and counselling sick children. We started seeing a drop in OPD numbers. We quickly pivoted to counselling patients and caregivers over the phone to ensure there was no break in treatment. We also managed to scale our ration program with the help of supporters where delivery was impacted. Hygiene protocols meant that our hot meal program had to be suspended.
Highlighting the role of Government and corporate initiatives undertaken to focus on the children having cancer in India, Bahl added, “There are government schemes that provide financial assistance up to Rs.1 Lakh to Rs 1.5 Lakhs for cancer treatment of BPL patients. We’ve also seen the emergence of the National Cancer Grid and the setting up of tertiary cancer centres in smaller towns of the country, which have improved access to treatment and doctors. Yet, the need far outweighs the supply. Our partners like Bajaj Finance, Hexaware, Cactus Communications, JLL, Tally Solutions, and HT Parekh Foundation have supported our FoodHeals Programme through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Some have even introduced payroll giving and flagged off fundraising campaigns during the festive season.”