Cancer leaders from 10 South-East Asian nations got together at Delhi on the 25th and 26th of June 2019. The opening address was not given by a minister. Nor by the WHO Regional Director for South East Asia, Ms Poonam Khetrapal Singh.
Ms Ritu Bhalla gave the opening address. And held everyone spell-bound.
Who is Ritu Bhalla?
Ritu is a cancer survivor and leader of KidsCan Konnect (KCK), a teenage and young adult survivors group of CanKids…KidsCan.
Ritu got cancer twice. The first at the age of 4 and the second when she was 11.
Her talk included the following questions:
- Why was it that it took my doctors 8 months to diagnose my second cancer?
- Why did my friend Vikas have to go to 22 hospitals before he could get a diagnosis?
- Why did a friend of mine have to undergo a bone marrow puncture with no measures to reduce the pain? (For those who do not know it, a bone marrow puncture involves a large needle pushed through a bone – right into it, a very very painful procedure).
- Why did my friend Neetu with chronic myeloid leukemia have to die in pain, with no access to the right pain-relieving medicines?
Most of the suffering that Ritu talked about was avoidable. It was not a question of cost. Relief could have been given at low cost.
“I can help. Please permit me to help you”, Ritu pleaded, raising a voice that could come from a million people getting cancer in India every year.
The Astana declaration of 2018 asked member countries to include communities in designing and controlling health systems. Will we listen and respond to Ritu’s plea?
Congratulations WHO SEARO for making Ritu’s voice heard. And congratulations, Poonam Bagai and CanKids…KidsCan (a National Society for Change for Childhood Cancer in India) for empowering survivors to grow to their potential.