This summer, I interned at Tata Memorial’s Advanced Center for Treatment, Research, and Education in Cancer (ACTREC) in Maharashtra, India. It was a life-changing experience and I am thankful to the MacMillan Center and the Coca Cola World Fund at Yale for supporting my professional endeavors.
Tata Memorial Center (TMC) is a leading grant-in-aid research institution funded by the Department of Atomic Energy of the Government of India. Tata Memorial Center’s core mission is to provide comprehensive cancer care to all through their motto of excellence in service, education, and research.
The internship was an enriching opportunity to be trained in many areas of cancer epidemiology. It included a four-day field visit to Ratnagiri district, a rural area of Maharashtra, where I observed the implementation of an oral cancer screening program in a resource-limited setting.
The most rewarding aspect of this internship was learning about the incredible investment the Tata Trusts places in improving the lives of South Asians. TMC is composed of the most dedicated healthcare professionals who work hard in providing accessible healthcare to South Asians. My internship highlighted the positive impact of TMC on urban and rural communities across India.
The training began with understanding the importance of cancer registration, which is a systematic collection of cancer data from populations. Cancer registries must exist to establish appropriate cancer control and prevention programs in communities. TMC is actively involved in creating cancer registries across India. Currently, TMC has established nine cancer registries across India.
TMC has been conducting an oral cancer screening program in Ratnagiri district, Maharashtra since 2010. The objective of the program is to determine if oral cancer screening performed by visual inspection reduces oral cancer mortality and all-cause mortality in Ratnagiri district. Ratnagiri’s population is composed of agricultural workers who practice a high rate of tobacco chewing. The largest cancer burden in Ratnagiri district is oral cancer due to this lifestyle factor. The program is in its second phase; in the first phase 53,000 people were screened.
For four days, I was immersed in understanding the health system of Ratnagiri, and the challenges public health professionals face when implementing a health intervention in a resource-limited setting. The field experience included visits to a health education program held in a government school, oral cancer screenings held in the community center of a village, a rural primary health care center, a rural hospital, a rural maternal and child health daycare center, and the recruitment of control arm participants in a village.
Overall, this internship provided extensive training in understanding India’s health system, with a focus on cancer epidemiology and methods. It incorporated an in-depth understanding of how TMC establishes cancer registries and cancer prevention and control programs on varying Indian terrains, and how it evaluates its performance to ensure quality care is offered to the diverse communities it serves. Without the financial support from the Coca Cola World Fund at Yale, I would not have been exposed to the impactful work Tata Memorial Center has on the lives of individuals affected by cancer across South Asia.
Krisha Patel, Class of 2018, is studying Chronic Disease Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health.