As part of on-going observance of the 15th International Childhood Cancer Day (ICCD) - February 15 every year - Ritu Bhalla, a two-time cancer survivor, recently visited Agra to spread awareness. As Ritu Bhalla stood admiring the Taj Mahal, she fantasised for a moment how the monument of love would appear in a golden hue.
The 25-year-old spearheads an NGO-led campaign of childhood cancer survivors to collect 250,000 signatures to light up the Taj in gold colour - the symbol for awareness on childhood cancer. "We want to show the world that India cares for childhood cancer patients," said Bhalla, adding that one signature would represent one child - out of 250,000 - diagnosed with cancer worldwide each year.
‘Access to the best possible treatment, care and support is the human right of every child with cancer in India - not a privilege.’
Bhalla and her friends are all members of the Kidscan Konnect, Teenage and young Adult Childhood Cancer Survivor Group of Cankids, and are playing a crucial role in this campaign. The "Light It Up Gold Taj Mahal 2016" campaign, organised by NGO CanKids Kidscan, aims to project the Taj in golden colour in September.
The campaign started with ICCD events planned at different hospitals across the country for promoting and spreading awareness about childhood cancer. India accounts for 20 percent of the 250,000 new childhood cancer cases diagnosed worldwide each year. In India, the cure rate for childhood cancer is 30-50 percent against 70-95 percent in advanced countries.
Bhalla, who is also the Girl Child Ambassador, said: "We want Taj to turn gold as this is the colour of childhood cancer and the gold ribbon and gold light are symbols that honour the courage and struggle of childhood cancer parents and their families. We are aiming for the Taj Mahal as it is the pride of India and no other monument is best suited to represent love and care for the brave hearts."
She said many monuments and installations in different parts of the world went gold last year as part of a unique tribute lighting programme to raise awareness about childhood cancer. "September is childhood cancer awareness month. We are campaigning for the Taj Mahal to go gold this September," she said. "Gold because children are priceless and precious and childhood cancer must be a child health priority in India," said Bhalla.
During the month-long ICCD events organised by CanKids in association with 55 different hospitals and other partnering NGOs, various activities were planned which included decorating Taj Mahal cut-outs by cancer children at different hospitals and a poster competition.
The "I Deserve" poster competition enabled children with cancer to express their wish to lead a healthy and normal life, the right to better treatment, education and clean environment, enjoy their childhood and breathe in a world which is free of cancer.
The NGO also is organising a pledge campaign for spreading awareness on childhood cancer. As part of the campaign, pledge books are being given to partnering hospitals, corporate donors, schools and colleges and neighbourhood communities.
Dr. M.C. Misra, director of New Delhi's premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), pledged his support as the first signatory to the campaign and wrote: "Childhood cancer is curable, let's pledge complete support to childhood cancer control programme pan India."
"My best wishes and support for childhood cancer diagnosis and treatment and beyond. Let us go gold, light up the Taj to go gold. People should recognize childhood cancer needs special focus from one and all," he added.
CanKids co-founder Sonal Sharma said: "There is a lack of awareness and delayed diagnosis in developing countries which is the major cause of higher mortality rate of children than it is in developed countries." Our "Go Gold Light it up Taj Mahal" campaign is a step in the direction of spreading awareness and encouraging early detection. "For every child that dies of cancer, the world loses 71 years of life on an average," she said.
"Access to the best possible treatment, care and support is the human right of every child with cancer in India - not a privilege," said Kapil Chawla, a survivor of Hodgkin's Lymphoma and the NGO's awareness manager. "As survivors who have been through the journey, we are demanding that childhood cancer should be a child health priority in India," he said.
Cankids founder chairperson Poonam Bagai said: "There should be a defined childhood cancer national policy as part of the national cancer control programme. We need more treatment centres and trained paediatric oncology doctors and nurses." she added. "Affordable accredited paediatric oncology centres are a must along with quality cancer drugs".