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RM awardee champions cancer care for the poor

Mark Ernest Villeza – The Philippine Star

September 10, 2023 | 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — In a world where health crises often collide with financial instability, Ravi Kannan R., an Indian surgical oncologist and one of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay awardees, has been a beacon of hope for countless families battling cancer in the remote North Eastern Region (NER) of India.

Kannan’s journey is a testament to the powerful impact a compassionate, pro-poor approach to health care can have on some of the most vulnerable communities.

Cancer, a costly and deadly disease, knows no social or economic boundaries. For millions of middle-class and lower-middle-class individuals, however, the burden of a cancer diagnosis is compounded by financial hardships.

In India, where access to quality health care remains a challenge, the situation is particularly dire in rural regions like the NER.

Assam, a state within the NER, only established its first cancer hospital in 1981.

Change came to the region when Kannan, 59, assumed the role of hospital director at the Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (CCHRC) in 2007.

His appointment marked a significant milestone, as he became the first formally trained oncologist to hold this position.

Under his leadership, CCHRC evolved from a modest facility with limited resources into a comprehensive cancer hospital and research center.

Today, it houses 28 specialized departments encompassing oncology, pathology, radiology, microbiology, epidemiology and palliative care, among others.

The hospital’s staff has grown from a mere 23 to a formidable 451.

Kannan realized early on that offering state-of-the-art medical facilities alone would not suffice. A critical issue plaguing cancer treatment was low patient compliance.

Patients, often impoverished, struggle with the financial and logistical burdens on their treatment journeys.

Driven by empathy and a commitment to making a difference, Kannan and his team implemented pro-poor initiatives, which included providing free treatment, accommodations, food, ad-hoc employment for caregivers and a home care program.

CCHRC also extended care beyond its walls.

Hospital teams ventured into remote communities to educate families on pain management and palliative care and provided free medicines.

Patient compliance rates surged from a meager 28 percent to a remarkable 70 percent.

The hospital now annually extends free or subsidized cancer care to approximately 20,000 underprivileged patients.

Kannan’s dedicated work extends beyond medical treatment. It embodies the philosophy that quality health care must be accessible, equitable and affordable to all.

For the Ramon Magsaysay awardee, early detection is important, especially in resource-constrained settings.

While the ideal scenario would be regular screening, he said practical limitations mean that many cancer cases are diagnosed only when symptoms manifest.

He thus underscored the importance of physical examinations by health care professionals.

Kannan said that people should seek medical advice if they notice warning signs, such as unexplained lumps, non-healing ulcers, persistent coughs, changes in moles, unexplained bleeding or changes in bowel habits.

Kannan’s journey has been one of trial and triumph, with trust being paramount in delivering pro-poor health care.

His hospital has strived to maintain transparency in its financial policies, believing in patients when they say they cannot afford treatment.

Kannan has dedicated nearly 17 years to CCHRC. His leadership has inspired a cadre of young professionals who share his vision for pro-poor health care.

Driven by the belief that inclusive health care should be a reality for all, Kannan continues his tireless work in Assam, making a difference in the lives of those who need it most.

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