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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

At The Age Of 91, Dr. V Shantha Is Still Devoted To Changing The Picture Of Cancer Treatment In India

  • IWB Post
  •  July 10, 2018

The Cancer Institute (WIA) in Adyar, Chennai, is the first specialized center for treating cancer in entire South India and second in the country. Dr. V Shantha, its present chairman, has played a significant role in elevating it to the heights it stands at today and serves as an inspiration to generations of young doctors.

Even today, at the age of 91, she maintains a pretty busy schedule by delivering lectures and overseeing the functioning of the Cancer Institute. While today she is a symbol of motivation for scores of people and someone who is known to the world, her journey till here hasn’t been without challenges.

In a recent conversation with The News Minute, Dr. Shantha shared that though her sisters went on to earn college degrees, they all married and settled down, “which I found to be very drab and mundane. I didn’t want to be just a BA or an M Sc graduate.”

“I made up my mind in school to become a medical doctor. Everybody thought I would not make it. But I was very keen and I did take it up. And I think I did fairly well,” she said.

She pursued her MBBS degree from Madras Medical College and was one among the 10 girls in a group of 100 male students. She passed MBBS in 1949 and completed her post graduation in 1954.

Dr. V Shantha

Dr. Shantha (Second row, 5th from left) in final year MBBS

“When I was in medical college, no one bothered about the cancer ward. One day, when I was a final year student, they said somebody for cancer had come, there was a new OP. And we, as girls, went to see what was happening. It was also the first time I interacted with Dr. Krishnamurthi. I was very inspired. There was a very advanced case where the cancer had spread to the liver. Generally, our people used to say, nothing can be done. We were thunderstruck by the work Dr. Krishnamurthi was doing,” she recalled.

She joined the Cancer Institute in 1955 when it had just opened. “After my post graduation, I was posted as a lecturer in the Women and Children Hospital. But I resigned and later joined here (Cancer Institute). I should say that was my turning point.”

But even here the challenges were too many. “The understanding people had of cancer was insufficient. The Minister for Health at the time said ‘why do you want a cancer hospital? People only die?’ We had to create awareness on cancer and make it known that there is available treatment. Scientifically and technically, there was very little knowledge on cancer, very little diagnostic equipment available,” said Dr. Shantha.

Dr. V Shantha

Padma Bhushan

But the scene today is entirely different from what it was earlier.

“Technology has improved and science has provided a lot of quality change, improving the survival rate. Unfortunately, medicine is no longer a human issue. Medicine has become a business, an industry. The corporate ethos has changed the entire scenario. Cancer scenario has changed phenomenally. We’ve also improved in diagnosis, treatment and understanding. But what we are giving to the patient is not the same. Every patient does not get whatever is available. Service ethos is gone. There is also no political understanding at the top that cancer needs special attention,” she said.

Dr. V Shantha

Padma Shri

Dr. Shantha has been awarded the Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibushan and Ramon Magsaysay Award. “So much to be done and so little has been done,” she said.

H/T: The News Minute

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