This Mumbai-based NGO supports underprivileged children with cancer and their families

Mumbai-based NGO St Jude India ChildCare Centres provides a home away from home for underprivileged children undergoing cancer treatment in metro cities.
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In India, close to 50,000 children are diagnosed with cancer every year — that’s about one child every 11 minutes. But, studies show children have a high chance — as high as 80-90 percent — especially in high-income countries of cure and survival.

However, a lack of awareness and understanding about cancer among the larger populace, especially in rural areas, creates a delay in treatment, plunging the survival rates for children with cancer dropping to as low as 15 percent.  Adding to woes is the dearth of cancer care facilities available for children. 

St Jude India ChildCare Centres — claiming to be a home away from home for children undergoing cancer treatment — helps them survive and thrive despite the disease.

St Jude provides free, safe, hygienic accommodation, basic education, and holistic nutrition to the affected children, travelling with their parents from rural/semi-urban areas to big cities to seek the best cancer treatment. 

Holistic approach

St Jude aims to give holistic care to children affected by cancer. It also provides shelter and counselling to their parents to ensure easy recovery and growth of their children.

Elaborating on St Jude “three circles” operations, CEO Anil Nair says, the first circle is high-quality medical care provided by the treating hospital. Second is the appropriate physical environment for a child undergoing treatment. The third is providing emotional support for children and their families. 

“First circle is left to the hospital. We work with a strong cancer treatment hospital, which has an established pediatric cancer treatment facility. We come in at the second and third circle, and that's how we bring value to the table,” Anil adds.

The NGO takes in any child suffering from cancer irrespective of economic status. Specifically, it works with hospitals that treat underprivileged children who need to travel to larger cities for treatment. These children and their families live in these cities between eight months and a year for the intensive treatment to get over.

St Jude for Life — the NGO's new vertical — ensures timely and appropriate assistance is available to the children to complete their education, maintain good health, and lead successful lives.

From the time of their enrolment on completing five years since diagnosis of cancer, till they are independent and self-sufficient, St Jude for Life provides appropriate intervention, directly or through experienced partners, to support, mentor, and enable them to become upright contributing members of society.

At present, the NGO is supporting 467 families across nine cities and 37 centres. With a team of over 150 members and about 100 volunteers, St Jude is financially supported through CSR funds, FCRAs and HNIs.

How it operates

As part of a hospital's due diligence, the authorities evaluate the economic status of the family, the constraints they face, etc., and refer them to St Jude. 

“We ensure they have a place to stay as long they need when their child is undergoing treatment. We provide accommodation to children until 15 years of age and to their parents,” Anil explains. 

Each centre can accommodate 10-12 families with cooking and storage facilities, who can live with privacy. The community space has common areas such as a dining hall, kitchen, and bathroom blocks. Additionally, St Jude ensures hygiene and safety at all times.

“We provide dry rations every week so they can cook food of their choice, especially because the child would like to eat familiar food,” adds Anil.

Besides, St Jude also provides transport facilities for children undergoing chemo treatment. It also has vehicles for emergencies at night. 

Since a few children miss out on about a year’s education, the NGO has appointed teachers at the centres to help keep them in touch with the basics of Maths, English, and Science.

On keeping the parents engaged during the process, Anil says, “For them, staying long without much activity is difficult. So we provide a lot of skill-building and other recreational facilities. We also offer counselling services to ensure they stay in the course — given the long duration of the treatment — and not go back home before it is over.”

Recently, St Jude partnered with Chennai-based Star Health and Allied Insurance to provide health and accident coverage to children supported by St Jude India ChildCare Centres during their cancer treatment and are now cancer-free for five years.

Stigma attached

Citing incidents near its Hyderabad and Mumbai centres, Anil says the NGO was either asked to vacate or was charged with police cases because people in the neighbourhood did not want to see these families in the area.

“There's stigma and reluctance on the part of the larger society to acknowledge this need and support this cause,” says Anil.

He adds that many parents, especially in Jaipur and Delhi, don't pursue cancer treatment for their girl children. Once the diagnosis is out, many a time, the parents choose to abandon treatment for daughters. The overall gender mix in St Jude centres at 30:70 among girls and boys, respectively.

Moving forward, St Jude wants to expand its centres to more cities and serve at least 1,000 families daily.

Edited by Suman Singh

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