car driving a street in a rural area
Access to care

Medical services for cancer patients in rural northeast India

A mobile team of dentists, nurses, health camp managers, and data entry operators are working toward increasing cancer screenings and community awareness in Assam.
Andrea Lutz
Published on March 18, 2024

Located toward the northeast border of India, Assam is known for its tea: The finest in the world is produced there. The emerald-green landscape is dominated by a mighty river, the Brahmaputra. It winds through the foothills of the Himalayas for 1,000 kilometers at widths of up to 100 kilometers. During the monsoon season, the Brahmaputra repeatedly changes its course and floods large parts of the country. “In this region, it’s particularly difficult for residents of smaller villages to reach the right kind of healthcare facilities,” says Sanjay David, Head of Corporate Accounts at Siemens Healthineers India.

<p>Majid Gohain was diagnosed with cancer in 2019 and had to travel hundreds of kilometers with his family to access cancer care. Today, he can visit the Dibrugarh Cancer Centre, a dedicated facility with modern cancer care just 60 kilometers from his village.</p>
Northeast India has the highest incidence of cancer in the country, with three times the national average [1]. Around 45,200 new cases are reported every year, and Assam alone accounts for more than 32,000 [2]. Fifty-seven percent of all cancers in men and 28 percent of all cancers in women are tobacco-related. The region also has a unique cancer profile, with a higher incidence of cancers of the upper digestive tract [3]. Delivering affordable cancer care is one of Assam’s greatest challenges.
<p>Currently, seven Apex Hospitals handle the entire journey of Assam’s cancer patients. The goal is to create smaller centers in different regions that are connected to the top centers. The local centers will be responsible for prevention, diagnosis, and care. <br><br>The Assam Cancer Care Foundation is a partnership between the Assam government and Tata Trusts. It was founded in 2017 to establish a three-tier cancer network in the state, using a distributed model of cancer care. The model seeks to create patient-centric cancer facilities that deliver standardized and affordable care closer to the patients’ homes. Seven dedicated cancer hospitals have been established in cities across the state, and a unified technology platform is being developed to ensure high-quality care delivery.</p>
Apex Hospitals are super-speciality hospitals managed by expert medical professionals and accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals (NABH) in India.
Sanjay David: “As a partner of Tata Trusts, Siemens Healthineers is providing laboratory equipment, X-ray systems, CT scanners, mammography and MRI systems, and PET/CT scanners for cancer diagnosis, and linear accelerators for cancer treatment.”
There’s good news for Majid and many other people living in rural areas: To complement clinical services, the Assam Cancer Care Foundation and the National Health Mission have started prevention and early detection programs in eight districts in Assam. Community outreach programs are being established in remote areas that have less access to healthcare facilities: A mobile team of dentists, nurses, health camp managers, and data entry operators are working toward increasing cancer screenings and community awareness, and are collaborating with local organizations. Several programs are being implemented to promote prevention, early detection, and palliative care.
<p>The network of cancer centers will soon be improving patients’ access to care facilities, significantly reducing travel time and out-of-pocket expenses for Majid and many others.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>The Assam Cancer Care Foundation aims to provide support to approximately every second cancer patient in Assam.</strong></p><p>&nbsp;Sanjay David: “Cancer is one of our key focus areas. We want to create a world where there’s no fear of cancer. I’m really excited to be part of this team.”&nbsp;</p>

By Andrea Lutz
Andrea Lutz is a journalist and business trainer specialized on medical topics, technology, and healthcare IT. She lives in Nuremberg, Germany.