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Online Cancer Support in India’s Low-Income Communities: Lung Connect Shines as a Beacon of Hope

Article September 13, 2023

India’s Lung Connect shows value of online cancer support in low-income settings

In April 2020, as India grappled with one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, Ramkrishna Bhadhury, a 44-year-old farmer from Nalikul, West Bengal, faced a dire situation. Battling lung cancer since 2017 and reliant on targeted therapy drugs, he suddenly found himself cut off from essential medication when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Bhadhury had been receiving treatment at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, roughly 2,000 kilometers away. His three-month visits for subsidized care and medication abruptly ceased. Local pharmacies demanded prescriptions from his oncologist, an impossible task given the circumstances. It was at this critical juncture that Vandana Mahajan, a volunteer counselor at Tata Memorial Hospital, intervened.

Mahajan, connected to Bhadhury through the ‘Lung Connect’ project, a lung cancer support group established during the pandemic, worked tirelessly to secure a prescription from Bhadhury’s oncologist. She then liaised with a pharmaceutical company and enlisted India Post, the sole courier service in operation at the time, to deliver the life-saving medications to him. For Bhadhury, Mahajan was nothing less than a savior.

Lung cancer is a prevalent and deadly disease in India, often diagnosed at advanced stages. Patients endure lengthy diagnostic journeys and extensive travel to reach specialized cancer centers, grappling with issues like housing and communication barriers. Resources like cancer support groups are scarce, especially in low-income settings.

The Lung Connect initiative has emerged as a beacon of hope. Conducted twice a month in Hindi, the most widely spoken language in India, the sessions allow patients to connect virtually. Oncologists review medical histories, offer advice, and prescribe medications as needed, sparing patients the arduous trip to Mumbai. Moreover, the sessions feature valuable insights on managing cancer and its side effects, along with activities like yoga, group interactions, and singing.

Initially conceived to ensure timely medication access for remote patients, Lung Connect has transformed into a source of inspiration. Patients witness others who have lived with lung cancer for extended periods and share tips on managing drug side effects. It’s a platform where hope thrives.

Lung Connect is India’s first online platform where cancer patients and caregivers exchange information, according to Dr. Kumar Prabhash, Head of Medical Oncology at Tata Memorial Hospital.

Vikas Hawaldar, a Mumbai resident diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, joined Lung Connect via a WhatsApp group. He now leads yoga sessions and teaches lung exercises, providing motivation to patients nationwide. “We keep each other’s spirits up,” he says, emphasizing the importance of living well despite their diagnoses.

Most Lung Connect participants are on palliative treatment, and counselor Vandana Mahajan ensures they understand the significance of pain relief. She also broaches the topic of death during sessions, recognizing the importance of balancing hope with reality.

Encouraged by positive feedback, the counselors aim to expand their services to lung cancer patients at other institutions. They plan to launch a website and YouTube channel to make accurate information and resources accessible to patients across the country.

“If this initiative proves successful, it could pave an innovative way to provide information to the patients in developing countries,” says Dr. Prabhash, highlighting the potential global impact of Lung Connect.

News reference: https://cancerworld.net/indias-lung-connect-online-cancer-support-low-income-settings/