Tanuj Sharma, 13, could not travel to Delhi in May for a bone-marrow test, unavailable in his hometown, #Gwalior. His #father lost his job at a textile factory that was shut down because of the #pandemic.
Vinod Sharma will never forget the night of July 24, 2019, when he and his wife hastily left in an #ambulance for Delhi with their 13-year-old son, Tanuj, leaving their eight-year daughter with relatives. Tanuj had been diagnosed with leukemia and Gwalior, their hometown, was not equipped to treat him. For six months, the family lived in rented rooms in Delhi, while #Tanuj was treated at a private hospital, after failing to get admitted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (#AIIMS).
“There have been days when we have eaten just once to save money for Tanuj’s treatment,” said Sharma, then working as a technician in a textile weaving factory. Borrowing money from family and friends, he spent Rs 12 lakh on hospital bills and other costs. Tanuj’s cancer subsided after intensive #chemotherapy, and the family returned to Gwalior in February 2020, hopeful that two years of #maintenance chemotherapy at home (oral medication), interspersed with visits to doctors in Delhi, would allow Tanuj to return to a normal life and go back to school.
But then came the COVID-19 pandemic and the countrywide lockdown. Tanuj could not travel to Delhi in May for a bone-marrow test and specialised tests were unavailable in Gwalior’s #diagnostic centers. With COVID-19 cases surging, the family also fears that Tanuj, already immuno-compromised, may get infected if he travels. Sharma, meanwhile, has lost his job at the #textile factory, which has been shut down because of the pandemic. He has not been paid for the past two months.
Tanuj is among the 50,000 estimated Indian children in the 0-19 age group who are diagnosed with cancer every year, many of whom have had to face even worse challenges due to the pandemic and the #lockdown. These range from postponing or missing their treatment cycle, to not being able to procure medicines and access specialised tests, to facing difficulty in finding admission because their hospitals have been designated as #COVID19 facilities. Some have not been able to go back to their hometowns amid the travel restrictions imposed during the lockdown even after completing their treatment, thus bearing additional living costs in big cities, while others are unable to travel to big cities to even start cancer treatment.
While #paediatric oncologists are trying to make sure the pandemic does not interrupt children’s #treatment regimen, including asking that a certain percentage of resources such as hospital beds be reserved for treating non-COVID19 patients and offering tele-consultations, support groups and NGOs are trying to raise #funds to help families most in need.