Cancer Doesn’t Stop, Neither Will We: Anil Nair
Anil Nair, CEO, St Jude India ChildCare Centers speaking to BW Healthcare World elaborates on how the organisation is making a huge difference in the lives of numerous children fighting cancer
How many children’s lives have been associated with the organisation over the last 15 years?
We started 15 years ago with a small group of individuals who had no previous experience in public health. They came together with a common purpose - to provide a home-away-from-home for the families of children being treated for cancer. Eight children and their families in Mumbai, were admitted to our first centre. Today, we care for over 460 children and their families across nine cities in India. Over 4,500 children and their parents have stayed with St Judes during their treatment. They cover more than 517 districts across 27 states and 2 UTs. Half of the children are from Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar.
How has the working model of the organisation transformed over the years?
St Judes provides safe, secure, hygienic accommodation and holistic support and care to needy, out-of-station families whose children are undergoing cancer treatment in metro cities. The 'Home away from Home' provides a hygienic, protective, nurturing environment which gives the children the best chance of beating cancer. St Judes creates a community for families, who come from all over India, speak different languages and represent all communities but share the common goal of getting their child treated for cancer.
When we started in 2006, our centre in Mumbai offered children and their families a safe, clean place to stay and transport to and from the hospital. We soon realised the importance of nutrition during a child's recovery and began to provide nutritional support to them. Since cancer treatment can take anywhere between six months to two years, we also realised that the kids were out of school and needed to be kept engaged and active so that they could smoothly re-enter the school system once they recovered.
Earlier this year, you started the ‘St Jude for Life', what is it about? What kind of an impact does it have on the children’s education at the organisation?
Cancer patients are termed 'survivors' once they complete five years from the date of diagnosis. They require a strong support system to help them become self-reliant and independent and make up for lost time and opportunities. St Judes' latest vertical, St Judes for Life (Founded in Memory of Rani Viaji), ensures that the children who have won the battle against cancer can fulfil their potential by offering them continued support. The vertical was launched in 2020 to support our survivors, thereby fulfilling our organisation's motto 'once a St Judes child, always a St Judes child'.
The mission of St Judes for Life is to ensure that timely and appropriate assistance is available to St Judes alumni to complete their education, maintain good health and lead successful lives. From the time of their enrolment till they are independent and self-sufficient, St Judes for Life provides appropriate intervention, directly or through experienced partners, to support and mentor them.
Last year, the vertical launched an initiative in collaboration with Chennai-based Star Health and Allied Insurance Company to provide health and accident coverage to children who are cancer-free. The initiative will cover 326 children in its first year; each year, at least 500 children are expected to be added to this cohort.
Since you are celebrating the 15th Anniversary of St Jude India ChildCare Centres, what would be the few highlights to take from these years? Tell us more about the book launch.
Since 2006, we have had over 20,000 admissions, offering children and their families the best chance to beat cancer.
From taking care of eight families, we now look after over 460 children and their parents. We started with a single centre in Parel, Mumbai and today we have 37 centres across nine cities: Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, Varanasi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Vellore, Guwahati and Kolkata.
We celebrated our 15th anniversary with the launch of a book that highlights the significant milestones of our journey. The book is a compilation of congratulatory messages for our efforts over the past 15 years. These messages were sent to us by doctors and supporters from the medical fraternity as well as long-term and new donors and volunteers. During the event, our Founder, Nihal Kaviratne, spoke about this journey and how we have grown over the years. Dr Rajendra Badwe, Director TMH and his team were present at the online event to launch this special coffee table book. Some of our donors, including RK Krishna Kumar, Trustee Tata Sons, also joined the virtual celebrations.
What are the costs involved? How do you arrange the financial assistance?
Our day-to-day operational costs (Opex) include maintaining hygienic premises, running the centres, providing nutritious food, transportation, catering to emotional wellbeing, providing recreational activities for children and parents, skill training, education activities for children and their parents and overhead expenses.
We arrange for financial assistance through donations through CSR funding, individual donors, high net-worth individuals (HNI) and foundations/trusts.
What's next for St Jude India? What are your future plans?
The Covid-19 pandemic slightly delayed our expansion plans. However, earlier this year, we opened another centre in Varanasi to support patients at The Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital. With this new centre, our capacity in Varanasi has gone up from 16 units to 56 units.
We expect work on our biggest project at The Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer (ACTREC) campus in Kharghar and the Homi Bhabha Cancer Centre in Visakhapatnam to begin soon.
The challenge of providing a safe, hygienic place to stay for children undergoing cancer treatment is too big to be solved by one organisation alone. Therefore, in 2020, we launched a new initiative to nurture other NGOs and like-minded individuals who share a passion to fight childhood cancer. We have made our expertise and learnings available to them through a structured training programme. Manuals and SOPs have been developed on every aspect of our operations, and these are shared to enable the creation of a high-quality network of HAH facilities across India.
Our new programme St Judes For Life, addresses the longer-term challenges that childhood cancer survivors face during their lifetime.
Over the next five years, we aim to double our capacity to support at least 1,000 children and their families every day. To do this, we continue to build deep and meaningful relationships with our partner hospitals, relying on their expertise to help us fulfil our promise that until ‘cancer doesn’t stop, neither will we’.