During his tenure as governor of RID 3211 (2017–18), Suresh Mathew had the dream to take on an ambitious district project with several components, to which he and his team gave the acronym HOPE (Hospital Projects and Equipment).
Even though ranking relatively high on the human development index when it comes to Indian states, “Kerala has a high incidence of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and cancer, and I felt we should help the Kerala government contain these diseases by providing diagnostic and other equipment,” says Mathew.
As his year drew to a close, “I was on the lookout for a grand final signature project of scale under HOPE, and shared this idea with a few passionate presidents and offered district grant support.” Accepting the gauntlet, president of RC Trivandrum Kowdiar, Dr P Mangalanandan, a senior cardiologist of Thiruvananthapuram, conducted a needs assessment survey in government hospitals. He found that with breast cancer being the most common cancer in women, there was a pressing need for mammography equipment in the government sector.
Apart from the fact that early detection can cause quicker and better recovery, “there was also evidence that in India breast cancer was seen to be more common and aggressive in relatively younger women — those in their thirties and forties, unlike western countries where it is more commonly seen in women in the 40–50 age group and above. As, during their 30s and 40s, women are really busy with their families and their own careers, if detected late, lengthy treatment cycles have great psychological and financial impact, devastating many families,” says Dr Mangalanandan, who was designated project chair of the Rotary Digital Mammography project.
He adds that this is the reason why many cancer organisations, including the American Cancer Association, recommends regular screening of women in the age group 40–55 years. However, due to lack of awareness or availability of mammography equipment, breast cancer is often detected at a relatively later stage in India, pushing up mortality rates.
Mathew adds that the groundwork done by the Rotarians also found that the incidence of breast cancer in Kerala is higher than the national average, and even in Kerala, the numbers were higher in Thiruvananthapuram. “We found that there was no facility or programme for mass screening for breast cancer in the whole of Kerala. In Thiruvananthapuram, the only digital mammography facility was at the Regional Cancer Centre, where it was used more for planning treatment, rather than screening. The facilities in the private sector comprised only analogue machines, and the cost of mammography ranges from ₹2,000–3,000, making it unaffordable to the masses.”
Once the pressing need for more mammography equipment in the region was determined, RC Trivandrum Kowdiar sprang into action and took up the task of installing modern digital mammography equipment in a premier government institution — the Government Medical College (GMC) at Thiruvananthapuram. This was chosen as it caters to a large chunk of the population from South Kerala and even Tamil Nadu. This institute is also manned by a sufficient number of radiologists, post graduate students, radiographers and trainees, ensuring adequate manpower to effectively use the equipment.
The incidence of breast cancer in Kerala is higher than the national average, and even in Kerala, the numbers were higher in Thiruvananthapuram.
The Rotarians zeroed in on the latest diagnostic equipment in mammography which is digital in nature and turns out images of superior quality. Senographe Crystal Nova, the machine from General Electric, the latest in the international market, was chosen. “I understand this was the first such model to be ordered from India. We bargained down the price from the quoted ₹1.2 crore to ₹1.08 crore, but still, that was a daunting amount for doing any project in RID 3211. Finding that much money was a herculean task,” admits PDG Mathew.
But he was optimistic that the money would be found. “It was then that one of our past presidents, Rajesh, who is the grandson of the first principal of Trivandrum Medical College, volunteered to donate the seed money of ₹10 lakh. This was a great morale booster for our club’s leaders and Rajesh’s donation created momentum and a few other Rotarians including the club president promised funding support,” says Dr Mangalanandan.
Still there was a huge shortfall; but the money started coming. At the district training assembly, DG Mathew’s wife, Liya Mathew, made a personal donation of ₹5 lakh. Mathew allocated 50 per cent of the district designated fund of 2017–18, and district CSR chair G N Nair, a member of RC Trivandrum Central, a chartered account who has served as MD of various government-owned corporations, was given the responsibility to raise the remaining money.
Using his clout with the ministers, and presenting a detailed project report to the state finance minister Dr Thomas Issac, Nair persuaded the minister’s personal intervention to get a CSR sum of ₹25 lakh from the Kerala State Financial Enterprises, an undertaking of the Kerala government.
Past president Rajesh, who is the grandson of the first principal of Trivandrum Medical College, volunteered to donate the seed money of ₹10 lakh. This was a great morale booster for our club’s leaders.
– Dr Mangalanandan, president, RC Trivandrum Kowdiar
“This was history in the making as this was the first ever CSR contribution received by our district. Additional CSR funds came from UST Global, a technology unicorn based at the Trivandrum Technopark. Other companies like Terumo Penpol and Sahajanand Technologies also came forward to support the project, and members of RC Kowdiar also contributed generously,” adds Mathew.
Even after overcoming the financial hurdle, there were several technical and other delays in getting and installing the equipment. When these were removed, came the Covid pandemic to cause further delay. But the Rotarians worked closely with both the government and media to overcome all glitches and “finally, on Oct 20, the equipment was dedicated to the public by Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, at a meeting attended by two Kerala ministers and MP Shashi Tharoor. DG Thomas Vavanikunnel, PDG Mathew and Dr Mangalanandan were present.
But the district’s Rotarians can hardly rest after this mega project. Adds Mathew: “After the inauguration, while interacting with the doctors, one of the senior doctors at MCH had a very simple request. ‘We have a real problem here; we need a PET scan equipment urgently.’ When I asked her how much would it cost, she said ₹19 crore!”
Well, there is no shortage of doing good in the world for determined Rotarians!