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.
“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.