Feature Oncology

Improving cancer care in rural India

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f3826 (Published 14 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3826
  1. Sanjeet Bagcchi, physician and medical journalist, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
  1. drsanjitbagchi{at}gmail.com

A Mumbai hospital is setting up a national network of hospitals to raise the quality of cancer care throughout the country, writes Sanjeet Bagcchi

“A doctor in the town hospital said I have oral cancer. I have no idea what to do now,” said the 50 year old farmer to an unqualified rural medical practitioner at a tea stall in an eastern Indian village.

“Cancer in almost 100% of cases leads to death; it will gradually absorb your money, land, assets, and ultimately your life,” said the practitioner, adding, “Come to my room; let me see if I can do anything for you.”

Although this sounds anecdotal, it is typical of cancer care in rural India. Three quarters of the Indian population live in villages, but three quarters of qualified doctors live in cities and towns.1 This huge discrepancy in the doctor-patient ratio makes the lives of rural Indian masses miserable. For cancer care they have to depend mostly on practitioners who don’t even have any medical training.

“Cancer means no answer”

This compels villagers to believe that “cancer means no answer.” They …

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