For Children With Cancer, Nutrition Can Mean The Difference Between Life And Death
Over 50,000 children are diagnosed with cancer every year in India. 40 per cent of them are malnourished at diagnosis. We are Cuddles Foundation, an award-winning non-profit, based in Mumbai backed by a strong team of clinical nutritionists across India. We have collaborated with 28 government and charity cancer hospitals in 19 cities across India. Using a multi-pronged approach of nutritional counselling and nutritional aid we tackle a simple but ignored aspect of a child’s successful recovery from cancer—her nourishment. Because food heals.
The Problem: Surviving Cancer
In India, 8 out of 10 children who are malnourished are less likely to survive cancer. An alarming statistic, given that childhood cancer is curable 9 out of 10 times the world over. Children seeking treatment for cancer are often malnourished and also suffer from treatment-induced malnutrition—stemming from side-effects to chemotherapy. This makes it difficult for children to cope and they deteriorate even further. Often, scaring parents into abandoning treatment midway. A well-nourished child, on the other hand, is 86 per cent more likely to complete treatment and fight cancer.
The Solution: Food Heals
Our FoodHeals programme was created six years ago after working closely with senior oncologists and clinical nutritionists, to provide children fighting cancer with necessary nutrition. It’s a step-by-step guide to diagnosing malnutrition in children with cancer and providing counsel. The counsel is followed by an aid programme that includes nutritional supplements, eggs, fruits, dry fruits, monthly ration baskets to a family of four, and hot meals for in-patients and out-patients.
Our People: Nutritionists As Backbone
Nutritionists are the backbone of our Food Heals Programme in government hospitals. They work closely with senior oncologists so that food and medicine go hand in hand. We hire clinical nutritionists locally and train them in paediatric oncology nutrition, before they start work at the hospital. Besides nutritional counselling they also use games, stories, cook-outs to help parents make the right food choices for their families. We also help caregivers with the tools and means to incorporate locally available ingredients in their food. Why is this important? Because the child is with us only until she’s in treatment. Once she’s cured, she’s back at home. It’s important that parents continue to make the right food choices for her growth.
Other Innovations: Apps And Services
We have digitised the FoodHeals process to create a FoodHeals App that aids a nutritionist in diagnosing a child’s nutritional status and planning her diet. The app reduces the time taken per counsel, lowers the probability of human errors in calculating the grade of malnourishment and helps us reach out to more kids in a day. The FoodHeals App is currently being piloted in 10 hospitals across India.
The Impact: Food Makes Medicine Work
Some of the hospitals we work with include institutions like TATA Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, AIIMS New Delhi and NRS Kolkata. We conducted over 1.5 lakh counsels last year alone. An impact study at India’s largest cancer hospital, Tata Memorial Centre, found that treatment dropout rates among children with cancer reduced by 86per cent after planned nutrition became a part of cancer treatment.
Here’s a link to what the doctors have to say about our work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI_b1UIb-5s
“The support and guidelines provided by Cuddles have made our work better in an exponential way! Nutrition is an essential part of life. We always stress on healthy eating habits and balanced diet. But most people do not have a clear idea of what that means and how to go about it. As a result, we remain deprived of good health. Team members of Cuddles have made us realise that when patients are undergoing treatment for cancer, proper nutrition is one of the most important factors in favourable treatment outcome. Body reserves and immunity is now in the spotlight when we talk of immunotherapy. There are many instances when we have referred patients upfront to Ms. Nikita Mitra (Cuddles Paediatric-Onco Nutritionist at SGCRI), she has put her heart and soul into the service and several times we have been successful in salvaging a severely malnourished patient and conquered the monster called cancer.”
—Dr. Soma De, Dy. In charge, Paediatric Oncology, SGCCRI, Kolkata
Road Ahead: Online And Offline
The FoodHeals Programme is a plug-and-play model and can be implemented across all government/charity cancer hospitals across India. We are currently working towards digitising our training module that can be offered to nutritional colleges as an elective. So, we have more skilled paediatric-onco nutritionists coming into the public health system. We want to take the FoodHeals app to as many hospitals as possible. This year, we are also making our programme available at more hospitals in the South and the North-east of India. We have also collaborated with the National Cancer Grid to take our counsels online. We are most excited about a pilot programme that will serve young adults fighting cancer in the 18-24 years category.
How We Made It: We Are Not Alone
We have a lot of people to thank for bringing us this far–-our early believers, nutritionists, doctors at TATA Memorial for guiding us along, our board, staff and finally our amazing donors who make it possible for us to put our ideas into action. We especially thank Outlook for recognising us with the Outlook Poshan Special Jury Award For Urban Nutrition and encouraging us to continue to forge ahead.
To know more about the work we do, visit, www.cuddlesfoundation.org