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Breast cancer awareness and COVID-19 aid in Kolkata - work in the city of joy

In India, breast cancer is the most prominent form of cancer, with cervical cancer close behind in second place. In 2018, 162,468 new cases of breast cancer were recorded along with 87,090 of its caused mortalities in India. In one study spanning 2007 to 2014, breast cancer cases in Kolkata—as reported by the Population Based Cancer Registry and Hospital Based Cancer Registry—accounted for as much as 25.4% of all cancer cases in women in Kolkata, meaning that 1 of every 4 cancer diagnoses in Kolkata women were for breast cancer. 68.8% of all breast cancer cases were in women ages 25 to 49. Further still, cervical cancer, being the second most common cancer in Kolkata’s women, made up 10.1% of the area’s female cancer cases. Since then, breast cancer remains the foremost cancer in India, even though city-specific data in the field have not been reported.

Considering Kolkata’s need for breast cancer education and prevention in 2017, Aaroogya partnered with Siddhi Charitable Trust to educate 1500 women of varying ages, including adolescent girls in unstable or homeless situations in the areas of general health conditions, nutrition, sanitation, and breast self-examination. These educational sessions enabled local women to empower their own networks with an awareness of preventative cancer habits. Regarding the stigma of self-examination for breast cancer, and double mastectomy, Devlina Das reflects after the Aaroogya meetings: “now I walk and talk like a normal person and I can fight and face the social stigma after removal of my breasts outside and inside my home, I’m an Aaroogya Mitra for change.”

In 2020, Aaroogya returned to establish a pandemic task force in Kolkata and 55 other locations in India and beyond. Forming and leading a consortium of 23 organizations, Aaroogya trained 1,000 doctors, nurses, ANM and ASHAs and educated 27,000 families about COVID-19. A website and helpline was established in 11 local languages, facilitating 25,000 teleconsultations to assess for COVID-19, and 4,400 high-risk COVID-19 cases were mobilized for treatment.


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