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She Lost Her Grandma To Cancer; Now She Has Helped Nearly 2000 Rural Women With Breast Cancer

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Breast cancer is perhaps on the verge of becoming an epidemic in India, with an exponential rise in the number of cases each passing year. The most concerning part of this dangerous trend is that 8 out of 10 breast cancer patients in India do not survive in the absence of early intervention and inaccessibility of proper treatment. An indelible taboo surrounds the ‘feminine’ disease in rural India, leading many women, young and old, to succumb to breast cancer within five years of the onset of the deadly disease. With Aaroogya, by Priyanjali Dutta wants to change this. 

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

She Promised Her Grandma To Free The World From Cancer

Priyanjali Dutta was only 19 and a final-year dental student when her mother was diagnosed with Essential Thrombocytosis, a rare precancerous blood disorder. Around the same time, her sister and her adopted brother, both of whom were special kids, faced certain complications with their health. Priyanjali’s world came crumbling down.

The news brought back traumatic memories of losing her dear grandmother to cancer.

At 25, Dr Priyanjali Dutta is the brains behind Aaroogya – a non-profit organisation dedicated to offering basic healthcare facilities for free in remote parts of rural India. Her exceptional work in the domain of breast cancer awareness has saved over 700,000 women and earned her accolades from all over the world.

Aaroogya: She Started Her Work At 21

Priyanjali started Aaroogya in 2017 at the age of 21, from her hometown Shillong in Meghalaya, a state with one of the highest occurrences of cancer. From there, the Aaroogya movement has proliferated all over India, penetrating into the country’s nooks and corners and impacting nearly 700,000 lives in Meghalaya, Delhi-NCR, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and West Bengal.

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2,00,000 meals served
Emergency funds sent to 350 families

 

“Since I was pursuing my degree in a government medical college, I encountered patients who were mostly from an underprivileged background. I got a first-hand exposure to their plights and distress, and the factors that prevent them from availing timely medical care,” recalls Priyanjali, in a conversation with Efforts For Good.

While in college, Priyanjali’s unique approach to spread breast cancer awareness through fashion shows and choreography garnered a lot of attention in national and even international media. Soon, she delved into the scene of rural healthcare, dropping-in door-to-door in villages to inform women about breast cancer. That’s how Aaroogya came into being and propelled Priyanjali as a full-time social entrepreneur.

Aaroogya

Battling Resistance From The Villagers

Initially, she would face a lot of resistance from the villagers, as the womenfolks were either not allowed to step outside the confines of the household, or they were conditioned to ignore any health issues, especially those concerning their ‘private parts’. There had been times when men armed with ‘lathis’ surrounded Priyanjali and her team during their interaction with women in Uttar Pradesh hamlets.

With time, Priyanjali and her trained team of women volunteers managed to break the ice and share tête-à-tête with the shy housewives and teenage girls. Later they would be invited to attend the screening camps, where many had been diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer, even at critical stages. Most of her volunteers were Anganwadi workers and ASHA workers who were trained for months about the basics of cancer.

Priyanjali attributes a substantial part of Aaroogya’s success to Thermal Mammogram – an AI-driven procedure which helped her diagnose malignancy symptoms in women, without involving any physical touch of a doctor which they are extremely conscious about. In recognition of her incredible efforts, Hans Foundation has donated a Thermal Mammogram machine to Aaroogya, easing Priyanjali’s work by loads.

Some Shocking Encounters With The Stark Village Reality

Priyanjali recalls some of the shocking encounters she had in these villages.

“The level of ignorance and neglect of health among the villagers is appalling. In one UP village, people were consuming Bhang, weed and hash day in and day out, regarding it as ‘Bholenath Ka Prasad’ (Lord Shiva’s blessing), without having the slightest idea how gravely it is harming their health,” she shares.

Many patients would continue to ignore their cancer symptoms even in advanced stages, passing it off as some skin ailment or simply choosing to live with it, since they cannot afford treatment and medicine.

“In one camp, a middle-aged woman came, complaining of severe backache. When we examined her, we were terrified to find her at a very advanced stage of breast cancer. She had barely put up a thin cloth over her right breast which was completely disfigured and bleeding profusely. We rushed her to the emergency at the nearest hospital in Patna. She is now undergoing treatment,” Priyanjali shares, expressing her anguish at the body-shaming stigma plaguing the lives of rural women.

Priyanjali was quite sceptical when Aaroogya was invited to Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, by the local Ayushman Bharat coordinator to conduct a breast cancer camp in her hospital. “I thought a pollution-free, organically enriched place like Rishikesh would have almost no cases of breast cancer. I was in for a shock when six women nurses at the hospital itself were diagnosed with the disease at dangerous stages,” she shares.

Aaroogya

Expressing Her Gratitude

“I must express my sincere gratitude to a few eminent dignitaries, without whose guidance none of Aaroogya’s progress would have been a reality. Ronald van het Hof, the managing director of Women on Wings taught me the nitty-gritty of being an entrepreneur, while Dr Pramod Kumar Julka exposed me to the latest developments in cancer treatment like molecular profiling or precision medicine,” expresses Priyanjali.

“My interaction with Mary, an anthropologist from Israel, helped me understand how a person’s surroundings and daily schedule have the largest impact on the body. Moat of the disease manifestations are just repercussions from the daily lifestyle. She designed a data-driven curriculum for us to introduce our fellowship – Aaroogya Research and Public Health Fellowship (ARPHF),” Priyanjali narrates how Aaroogya introduced their prestigious fellowship for sprouting women changemakers in India.

From Breast Cancer To Holistic Healthcare

Recently, Aaroogya branched out into the domain of holistic healthcare alongside their dedicated breast cancer segment. In collaboration with the Central Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Priyanjali launched the Swasthya Nari Sashakta Buxar initiative in Buxar, Bihar, which

Brought 10,000 rural women into the ambit of overall health checkups and consequent treatments.

“I consider this a huge step for Aaroogya towards a bright future where we don’t just limit ourselves to breast cancer awareness, but effectively offer complete healthcare services to village women,” reiterates Priyanjali.

In the Bihar Aaroogya camps, the women were screened for breast cancer, cervical cancer, nutritional deficiency as well as made aware about menstrual hygiene. They also conducted malnutrition surveys among children and offered prostate cancer, kidney damage and hepatitis screening for men.

The Challenges & The Solution

For all these years, the entire funding for Aaroogya came from Priyanjali’s personal savings and contributions from her father, Sanjit Dutta. She might have received endless honours for her amazing efforts, but the sustainability of her non-profit foundation worries her the most.

With Aaroogya propagating into the fields of telemedicine, AI-based health programmes and advanced technology, she sincerely hopes the support for her work continues to pour in from all walks of society. Recently, she was felicitated by WEFT as the Young Achiever of The Year.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
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2,00,000 meals served
Emergency funds sent to 350 families

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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