Opening doors to cancer care in Patna

Dr Jitendra Kumar Singh, director of the Mahavir Cancer Sansthan, Patna, who runs the second biggest cancer hospital of the country after the Tata Memorial in Mumbai, was awarded the Padma Shri this year. It's not just the enormous number of patients who descend on the hospital for its moderately priced specialized treatment that makes it unique but its package of services which include ‘early detection and prevention,' research on pesticides and other carcinogenic substances and academic specialization on all aspects of cancer treatment.

As the patient load kept increasing, Dr Singh realized that treatment alone was not enough. Early detection was important for cancer cure. A community oncology department was opened and since the word cancer frightens people, on payment of a small fee of Rs 50 a health check up is done. Simultaneously, with the support of actors like Hema Malini, Shabana Azmi and Shatrugan Sinha a campaign was mounted on the carcinogenic impact of smoking and tobacco chewing. Half the 10 lakh new cancer patients are tobacco addicts, says Dr Singh.

Research on mice has shown the carcinogenic impact of DDT, insecticides and pesticides. Simultaneously, herbal treatment with turmeric and aswaganda has reduced the size of the tumours, says Dr Singh.

It's been a long and satisfying journey for Mr Singh, born and educated in Majhauni village of Banka District. A lot of people in his family were village level doctors and they inspired him to study medicine, but right from the beginning he was keen to work in a big institution where his work would have an impact.

Having done his MBBS from the Prince of Wales Medical College, Patna, in 1975 and MD in radiotherapy in 1980, he did his advance training in cancer in the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. Returning to Patna, he worked at the radium institute of the Patna Medical College and Hospital as a senior faculty member. He joined as director of the Mahavir Cancer Sanstha in 2001, three years after it was inaugurated.

Acharya Kishore Kunal, an IPS officer and secretary of the Mahavir Mandir Trust, who had an aunt with cancer was keen on a cancer hospital and provided a part of the temple land for it. Starting with 100 beds and about a dozen doctors, today the six-storied hospital has 450 beds, 125 doctors, 18 radiologists and a staff of 700. Every year it receives 26,500 new patients and has close to 3-lakh patients under treatment. Twelve organizations like the railways, different banks and the Army support the Sanstha financially and send their patients. Doctors from Delhi, Mumbai and other cities come to the hospital for cancer specialization. “When I moved out of Tata Memorial, Dr PB Desai had advised I set up a cancer hospital in Patna so that he does not have to see Bihari cancer patients in Mumbai. That dream is nearing fruition now,” says Dr Singh.

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