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Dr G K Rath is called the Pranab Mukherjee of cancer. It's a fitting tribute to the senior oncologist who heads almost every significant panel on the disease in India.
The list of his VIP patients can run into pages. But ask him to name some and he replies: "I remember names of LIPs more clearly - the less important people. " This "non resident Oriya" completed a 38-year-long stint at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on August 16 this year. Many say he is the Pranab Mukherjee of cancer - he's part of over 20 major government committees. Among a host of others, he chairs the Indian Council of Medical Research's task force on guidelines of management of cancers, heads the syllabus committee on radiotherapy for the Medical Council of India and the National Board of Examinations and is chief of the all-important steering committee of the National Cancer Registry Programme.
Meet Dr G K Rath, chief of the Institute Rotary Cancer Hospital (IRCH) at AIIMS and head of the department of radiation oncology. Even though he crossed 60 recently, Rath's energy can put a 25-year-old to shame. For nearly 20 days in a month he travels to the country's most backward areas with blue prints to set up cancer centres, where diagnosis and treatment can be provided free.
"At present, India has 27 regional cancer centres where everything is provided free by the government. My aim is to take that number to 50 by the end of 2017. " He recalls: "Around 25 years ago I set up a small cancer centre in Mizoram. Today, nearly 150 patients are treated there. "
Rath, who has to his credit over 250 scientific publications is specially sensitive to the cause of the North East, which he says has been unfairly neglected.
"The highest incidence of cancer is in Mizoram where 250 people out of 100, 000 population are affected as against 40 per 100, 000 population in Barsi, Maharashtra. My focus, therefore, has been on the Northeastern states that are far flung and lack quality healthcare. "
What upsets him most is the late diagnosis of cancer in India - what he calls the 80:20 story. "At present 80 per cent of cancers are detected at stage three and have a cure rate of just 20 per cent. Education and mass communication campaigns should aim to turn the tide. Our goal is to detect 80 per cent of cancers early. "
He adds: "In India 40 per cent of cancers are tobacco related and 20 per cent due to infections. So 60 per cent of cancers are actually preventable. "
A die-hard cricket fan who 'worships' Sachin Tendulkar, Rath compares the fight against cancer to a T20 match. "Just like in a T20 match, there is no draw. Either we kill cancer or cancer kills us. And the first attempt to deal with a cancer case has to be the best. "
Rath is now working to push through an important legislation that will change the face of cancer care in India. "I have asked the government to make cancer a notifiable disease like HIV. This would mean every case will have to be notified to the government. That way every cancer case will have to be treated on priority, " he says.
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