More than a hospital

The Tata Memorial Centre is a comprehensive centre for cancer research and treatment. It is a landmark on the global health map where about 60 per cent of patients seeking primary care are treated free of charge

About 10 to 12 million people the world over suffer from cancer. More than 50 per cent of them are from developing countries. In India 800,000 are diagnosed with this dreaded disease every day. At any given time, there are 2.5 million cancer patients in the country.

If you think this is bad news, there’s worse to come. By 2020, the number of patients globally will shoot up to 20 million, and 72 per cent of them will be from the third world.

Is India geared to meet the challenge of this cancerous future? “The answer is no,” says Dr Mohandas Mallath, dean (academic) at the Tata Memorial Centre (TMC) in Mumbai. Cancer rates in India are about 100 in a population of 100,000. As India ages, many more people will be affected by this hydra-headed disease because cancer tends to proliferate among those in the 60-75 age band.

“We need a Tata Memorial Hospital in every state,” says Dr Ketayun Dinshaw, a former director of TMC. She lauds the extraordinary vision that made the Tatas set up a speciality cancer centre at a time when there were only a handful of them in the world. Today, TMC treats about one-third of the cancer patients in the country.

After Lady Meherbai Tata died of leukaemia in 1932, her husband, Dorabji Tata — the chairman of Tata Sons and the son of the founder Jamsetji Tata — wanted to bring to India a facility similar to the ones abroad where his wife was treated. After Dorabji’s death, his successor, Nowroji Saklatwala, pursued this endeavour. But it was the support of JRD Tata that finally saw the Tata Memorial Hospital, a seven-storey structure, opening in Parel in the heart of working-class Mumbai on February 28, 1941.

In 1957, the Ministry of Health temporarily took over the Tata Memorial Hospital. But JRD Tata and Homi Bhabha — the pioneer of India’s nuclear energy programme — had the vision to foresee the role that radiation would play in cancer treatment, from imaging to staging and actual therapy. Administrative control of the hospital was transferred in 1962 to the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). After four years, the Cancer Research Institute — set up in 1952 — and TMC were merged.

Starting as an 80-bed hospital covering an area of 15,000 square metres, TMC now has more than 600 beds spread over almost 70,000 square metres. The annual budget of Rs5 lakh in 1941 is now close to Rs120 crore.

TMC is a comprehensive centre for the prevention and treatment of cancer, and for research. It is a landmark on the global health map and particularly important to this part of the world. Nearly 25,000 patients visit the clinics each year, not only from all over India but from neighbouring countries as well. About 60 per cent of patients seeking primary care are treated free of charge. Over the years, TMC has also realised the importance of preventive activities and is reaching out to create awareness even in rural areas.

The centre lays a lot of emphasis on education in the field of cancer. Over 250 students, medical professionals, scientists and technicians undergo training at the hospital. DAE has established a new state-of-the-art research and development centre at Kharghar in Navi Mumbai (called the Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer) to focus on research into cancers relevant to India and South Asia.

“TMC as well as DAE — through its links with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and Dr Bhabha — inherit their work culture from the Tatas,” says Dr Dinshaw. She recalls how committed JRD Tata was to the institution. “In fact, it was because of his involvement and concern that the hospital was shifted from the Ministry of Health to DAE.

Dr Dinshaw remembers JRD’s visits to the facility fondly. “He was such a towering personality; we were all in awe of him. He was alert and committed. I especially remember his visit for the celebration of the golden jubilee in 1991.”

Dr Mohandas, who has been with the centre for over 25 years, speaks warmly about the association between the Tatas and TMC, which has continued to grow over the years. “Though the Tatas are not directly involved with the centre, a large number of our patients benefit from the financial support that the Tata trusts provide. We also get research grants. I was the beneficiary of one such grant, which I used to set up the department of clinical nutrition.”

Dr Mohandas holds up the culture of honesty and integrity that has been inherited from the founders. “An unusual phenomenon, a practice that we have followed since our inception, is that we do not have a system of seeing only those patients that have an appointment. Every patient who walks in is attended to.”

TMC is a classic example of how well private philanthropy and public support can work together. And, as will be attested by the countless number of people who have benefited from the skill and care that the centre provides, this is more than a hospital, standing as it does on the frontline of India’s fight against a disease that takes no prisoners.

Tata Memorial Centre: A fact file
  • The Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) was set up by the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust in 1941. It was placed under the control of the Indian government’s Ministry of Health in 1957. In 1962, TMH began operating under the government’s Department of Atomic Energy.
  • In 1966, TMH was merged with the Indian Cancer Research Institute and renamed the Tata Memorial Centre (TMC). This is a classic example of a private institute partnering the government to serve a critical public need.
  • Some 52,000 patients were treated at TMC in 2008, about 65 per cent of them free of cost. The centre has 620 in-patient beds (with 98 per cent occupancy) and treats around 140 patients every day.
  • TMC has collaborations with many cancer centres across India, among them, the Regional Cancer Centres at Ahmedabad, Thiruvananthapuram, Nagpur, Gwalior and Hyderabad, the Civil Hospital, Shillong and the Jorhat Hospital, Jorhat (Assam).
  • TMC has some 300 postgraduate and doctoral students and its own university. The centre has residency programmes in general surgery, radiotherapy, pathology and anaesthesiology, super-speciality programmes and research programmes. It also conducts training courses that range from six to eighteen months and distanceeducation programmes.
  • The centre has collaborative initiatives with the World Health Organisation, the National Institute of Health, Washington DC (USA), IARC, Lyon (France) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • In 2002, TMC set up the Advanced Centre for Treatment Education and Research in Cancer (ACTREC) in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai. Spread over 60 acres in Mumbai’s satellite city, ACTREC has a clinical research centre and a cancer research institute.