AIIMS doctor treats cancer patients in Bihar for free

Last Updated on July 31, 2023 by Shabnam Sengupta

In 2015, the Bihar government revealed data which says that nearly 1.40 lakh cancer cases are registered every year, out of which two-thirds are those who have entered the advanced stage. The most common cancer cases in Bihar are oral, breast and cervical cancers. According to the state Health Department, these cases which comprise 34% of total cancer cases can be cured if diagnosed early and treated. The National Center of Biotechnology of Information (NCBI) says that about 70% of the Indian population lives in rural India, and nearly 95% of cancer care facilities are in urban India. Hence, the mortality rates are double in rural parts of India. In such a state of affairs, Oncologist Dr Sunil Kumar is working hard to tackle issues of cancer diagnosis in Bihar’s rural parts. He is currently employed at AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences), New Delhi.

The beginning of a journey of purpose

Dr Sunil was born in Dehri village in Rohtas district in Bihar. His father was in a low-paying government job. However, he did not compromise Dr Sunil’s education. Dr Sunil finished his junior college in Bihar and then moved to Delhi for medical education. His hard work led him to an opportunity to practice medicine in the US, then in 2012, he joined AIIMS, Delhi.

Dr Sunil Kumar

Dr Sunil used to be impersonal and professional towards his patients while treating them. But something happened in his life that changed his approach and changed him into a man with a purpose. His mother got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2012. Initially, she struggled to get good treatment, but eventually, she received the care and treatment she needed and she survived. “It was nothing sort of dramatic or shocking for me, maybe because I am a doctor and I approached it like any other disease. But the incident made me realise the backwardness of the state’s health system in Bihar, especially in rural parts of Bihar. Awareness, early detection and treatment lack in the state for economically weaker people. This is what I wanted to tackle through my social initiative,” says Dr Sunil.

With this aim in mind, Dr Sunil founded a non-profit called ‘Chandrakanti Devi Cancer Foundation’ in 2013, named after his mother. Dr Sunil collaborated with a few volunteers associated with local physicians and medical staff such as Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA workers) and Primary Health Centres (PHC) doctors. They started spreading awareness among people about cancer symptoms and urged them to come forward for diagnosis and treatment.

Dr Sunil Kumar clinic

Dr Sunil said that there was a lack of proper medical facilities as well as a taboo around the topic of cancer, especially those that occur in women, such as breast or uterus cancer. “There are 2-3 hospitals for cancer patients in Bihar but they are private which are not affordable for the people living in rural areas. Because of the unaffordability of the medical services for cancer and unawareness about the disease make the curable cancer cases incurable,” says Dr Sunil.

The hard work for the well-being of cancer patients

Dr Sunil travels a thousand kilometres from Delhi to Bihar to see cancer patients every first Saturday of every month. While explaining how he provides the services for free to the patients, he said that the local medical personnel sensitise the common people about the symptoms of cancer. They urge them to consult the doctors regularly. Moreover, there are many schemes the government has for patients. So, the volunteers try to help the cancer patients avail of the schemes through assistance in documentation and other necessary procedures.

“Availing government schemes is like fighting court cases in court. You need to have an expert that can help the people because people are not aware of the process of availing and documentation. That is why my volunteers are working hard to get it done,” explains Dr Sunil.

“Awareness is necessary so that cancer can be detected at an early stage when it is curable. If any patient wants to visit Delhi for further treatment, they are welcomed in AIIMS where all facilities from medicines to chemotherapies are provided at a very minimal cost,” says Dr Sunil. A medical college called Narayan Medical College has also generously provided space for consultation and meetings of the doctors, volunteers and patients.

Every time Dr Sunil visits Bihar, he consults about 30 to 35 patients consult him. So far more than a thousand people have sought consultation and treatment for free through the non-profit. Whereas many of them have been cured and are living a good and healthy life. The trust has 24/7 helpline numbers where people can call and seek consultation.

“The good part is that people are becoming more aware of the disease and its symptoms. They are now coming forward for consultation and talking about it more freely. This is the essential part as it is the way to detect the disease at an early age and cure it,” says Dr Sunil. 

Challenges and obstructions

Talking about the challenges, Dr Sunil said that people were sceptical about the disease. “But we have not faced any kind of resistance from the villagers. People are happy to know that we are here for their help. Thankfully the first bunch of volunteers who came forward to help me in my mission belong to cancer patients’ families which helped us build trust amongst the villagers,” adds Dr Sunil.

Dr Sunil Kumar with patients

However, Dr Sunil informed that he still lacks the resources and manpower to do the work he set out to do on a large scale. “I am trying my best to extend my services to as many people as possible,” says Dr Sunil. He currently covers about six districts of Bihar so far.

Dr Sunil discussed the state of facilities for cancer patients in India and said that the facilities in India are nowhere close to the ideal definition by the World Health Organization (WHO). “Most of the facilities are with private hospitals which is not affordable to most of the Indians, especially people from India’s rural areas. We are lacking in both affordability and facilities for cancer patients which is sad for us,” Dr Sunil expressed his opinion. 

Since Dr Sunil was born to an underprivileged family, he understands the challenges that the villagers face in life in terms of finance and healthcare facilities. “This motivates me to help people and I want to continue this for my life,” says Dr Sunil.

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