There are three types of most common cancers - breast, uterine cervix and oral – in India and they account for one third or nearly 35 per cent of the country’s cancer burden. All of them are usually detectable at early stages, and malignancies of the oral cavity and cervix have precancerous stages that are amenable to secondary prevention. If the disease is detected at an early stage, the chances of curing it increase manifold. But most of the time patients are diagnosed with cancer at stage III and IV and in such a scenario, they don’t respond to medicines properly and hence the disease becomes incurable. Therefore, screening and early detection of these three cancers can remarkably reduce the cancer burden in India.
Keeping this in mind, the National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research (NICPR) started an online initiative to give health care providers – be it a doctor of Medical/ Dental/ AYUSH streams, staff nurses and Medical Social Workers (MSW) or public health professionals – an insight into cancer screening. The initiative, named ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), is an online (live streaming) training program that can be attended using just a smartphone.
“ECHO is a kind of telementoring in which we increase the capacity of doctors or paramedical workers like ANM (auxiliary nurse midwife) with the use of internet connectivity in smartphones or laptops. Under this program we give an insight into the three main types of cancer screenings,” NICPR director Dr Ravi Mehrotra said while speaking to News Nation.
“This screening does not require any big or expensive equipment and can be easily performed using your eyes and hands. This is the best part of this program and that is why it improves capacity and access to speciality care for rural and underserved populations,” the NICPR director added.
The main aim of the ECHO program is empowering health care providers to carry out screening independently thereby enabling their services to be accessible to every citizen in India.
“It is a certificate program with a total duration of 14 weeks and all lessons are imparted using the ECHO model using the web-conferencing tool of Zoom software, said Dr Roshni Babu, who leads the project ECHO. Upon completion of the course, e-certificates will be provided to individuals, she added.
The NICPR has successfully completed 6 ECHO programs in which more than 400 health care providers – about 70-80 per cent doctors and rest are ANMs – from across the country have been trained. Despite the challenges of internet connectivity in the northeast, several doctors from this region have participated in the program. The NICPR even conducted a special course for the Tripura on request of the state government.
“After this online skill training the NICPR three-day hands-on workshop in the institute which makes them more confident in doing cancer screening. So it’s a comprehensive program in which people not from India but any part of the world can attend our programs. We also had participants from Peru and Libya,” Dr Babu.
The most important thing is that the NICPR is the first one in India to start an online certificate course in cancer screening. It is now planning to train other places about this program.