Four out of 10 children being treated for cancer in Mumbai lose the fight because of malnutrition
Purnota Dutta Bahl’s visits to Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, made her realise that families that go to large cities like Mumbai and Delhi to seek treatment, face a sea of challenges. These include loss of livelihood, problem of finding accommodation, having no funds/access to nutritious meals, apart from high costs of treatment and the emotional turmoil that come as a part and parcel of dealing with cancer.
This is how the idea of Cuddles Foundation formed in her mind.
The statistics are harsh: 50,000 children are diagnosed with cancer every year in India. Only 22% of them make it to hospitals for treatment. Only two out of 10 children survive, compared to worldwide survival rates of eight out of 10. Four out of 10 children being treated lose the fight because of malnutrition. This is the need being addressed by Cuddles Foundation: “To reduce the mortality rates and treatment abandonment rates due to malnutrition and infection.”
Children do not smoke or chew tobacco; yet, they are not immune to cancer. When cancer strikes the young, they have to be taken to a doctor in a metropolitan city like Mumbai. The travel—and the extra care needed—puts immense stress on the child and, often, malnourishment can be a more potent killer than cancer itself. Dislocation of the family routine should not lead to poor food habits, especially for a cancer-afflicted child. These were the findings of Cuddles Foundation and its founder, Purnota Dutta Bahl, who brings formidable marketing skills to the organisation.
Healthy and nutritious meals and supplements are a luxury for these children. So, what started as a small drive among Ms Bahl’s friends and family three years ago, has grown into a well-established NGO (non-governmental organisation). Today, Cuddles supports over 1,500 children every month in seven partner hospitals across four states in India, including leading institutions like Tata Memorial Hospital and All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi. Treatment abandonment rates have gone down from 21% to 3%. This can be directly attributed to nutritional intervention at Tata Memorial Hospital by Cuddles Foundation.
Cuddles is the only NGO in India that provides holistic nutritional support to malnourished children undergoing treatment for cancer. For instance, ‘Chaky’s Food for All’ programme, named after an 18-year-old who is no more, provides ration to families for preparing nutritious meals for children at Wadia Hospital in central Mumbai.
Take a look at the website of Cuddles for some heart-warming success stories, or those whose struggle continues. Nooresa Sutarwala, of Cuddles, tells us about Geeta, who was four months old when she was diagnosed with acute leukaemia, a type of blood cancer. Severely malnourished at the time of diagnosis, she needed aggressive nutrition intervention (Ryles tube feeding) to even reach the stage of ‘moderately malnourished’, in two months’ time. She is still on Ryles tube feeding along with weaning diet, as she has been on chemotherapy. Her fight continues.
Readers are invited to lend a helping hand by donating, or becoming a volunteer, or simply pledging an occasion (your birthday, anniversary or festival, gifting proceeds to help put a smile on a cancer child’s face). You can also provide logistics support to Cuddles Foundation. Volunteers can help facilitate special art & craft classes, play sessions or to conduct drives to obtain essentials like diapers, clean linen, raincoats, toys and books.
Cuddles welcomes corporate support as a CSR initiative in the form of nutritional and medicine supplements; hygiene-related products are needed to ensure the success of the cause. Donations are tax-exempt under Section 80-G of the Income Tax Act.
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