“Aai, I will become a doctor when I grow up and cure people without money,” promised 8-year-old Swapnil Mane to his mother, as he helplessly watched his poor neighbour die of cancer. Twenty years later, this oncosurgeon and his wife have helped thousands of cancer sufferers in 52 villages in Maharashtra and have operated on 550 patients for free.
Twenty years ago, an 8-year-old boy tugged at his mother:
“Aai (Mother), I want to help Godse Kaka!”
“But how can we help Swapnil? Baba (Father) does not earn so much that we can help him monetarily, or else we would have.”
“But Aai…Why don’t the doctors help him and cure him?”
“Doctors cure only those who have money, Swapnil.”
The last line uttered by Swapnil Mane’s mother gave him his mission in life.
Dr. Mane Medical Foundation and Research Centre, Rahuri, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra
He was watching Godse Kaka die every day. He was watching Godse Kaku cry every day. Godse Kaka was Swapnil’s neighbour. He was a daily-wage worker at a farm. He earned about Rs. 50 to Rs. 60 per day. And now, not even that, due to his disease.
“Aai, I will become a doctor when I grow up and cure people without money too!” Swapnil promised his mother.
Swapnil eventually came to know that Godse Kaka was suffering from lung cancer, and just because he did not have Rs. 50, 000, he had to die. So now, Swapnil was determined to become a cancer specialist and fight against cancer.
According to data from the National Cancer Registry Programme of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the estimated mortality rate due to cancer saw an increase of approximately 6 percent between 2012 and 2014. There were close to 5 lakh deaths due to cancer in the country in 2014. Every year, 50,000 women die due to cervical cancer. Every day, 1300 people die due to cancer in India.
On May 1, 2011, Dr. Swapnil Mane (MBBS, MD, DGO, FCPS, MD—Oncosurgeon) started the journey towards fulfilling his dream of making cancer treatment affordable and even free if necessary for the needy in India. He inaugurated the Dr. Mane Medical Foundation and Research Centre, a national, social, secular NGO which stands committed to cancer control, at village Rahuri, district Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. The Foundation is one of the few medical foundations in India, which has been recognized by the Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (SIRO), Department of Science and Technology.
Doctor Mane, along with his team of 13 doctors and 6 paramedical staff, has so far conducted free cancer check-ups and medicine distribution camps in 52 villages of Maharashtra, under a community-based cancer project.
Dr. Swapnil Mane with his team. (From left to right: Dr. Pramod Nishigandha, Dr. Yele, Dr. Anant Shekokar, Dr. Bharat Temak, Dr. Swapnil Mane, Dr. Mahesh Kadam, Mr. Yogesh Sajgure)
The Foundation adopted two remote villages, Mhaisgaon and Taharabad, for this community-based cervical cancer project, and made them free of cervical cancer in just two years. The team has operated on 550 patients free of cost and has undertaken 106 cancer awareness sessions.
“Prevention is an essential part of our mission. Through public education, clinical preventive services and research, we strive to reduce the incidence of cancer and serve people who may never be our patients,” says Dr. Mane
However, all that glitters today was not gold always. Not being financially very sound, Dr. Swapnil Mane joined the Tata Memorial Hospital at Mumbai (the same place from where he had graduated), as a fellow in gynaecological oncology. He started his career with a vision to just cure the patients without looking at their financial status. But, one day, Dr. Swapnil met a patient in the lobby of the hospital. He looked pale and worried. When Dr. Swapnil asked him the reason for his sadness, he said that he was a cancer patient and only had money to come to Mumbai. Now he did not know how he would be able to pay the hospital bills and go back to his village.
“I gave the patient some money and also found an NGO to sponsor his fees. Once his treatment was done I gave him money to go back home. He was happy; however this was the moment when I decided to practice in a village rather than in a metropolis like Mumbai,” recalls Dr. Mane.
He was pained to see patients who came from villages sleeping on the footpaths of Mumbai just because they did not have money to rent a place in the city till their treatment was done.
He then started his research and found out that his own town, Rahuri, had no tertiary health centre available in and around 50 km. He was shocked to know that the doctor ratio in this area is 1:50,00 (the national average doctor-population ratio is 1:1,700). Also, there was no medical institution or health centre that had a diagnostic facility for cervical cancer, in spite of the fact that one in every 100 women in the area was affected by cervical cancer.
The main occupation of people in Rahuri tehsil is farming. Most of the population is landless and survives on daily wages by working on the farms. They generally live hand to mouth. Treating one of the family members for cancer or even going for an early diagnosis is, financially, next to impossible for them.
After his initial research, Dr. Mane decided to start practising in Rahuri, and that too at half the cost compared to other doctors. As a result, patients started flooding into Dr. Mane’s clinic. This became, however, a matter of worry for other doctors at Rahuri. The doctors association there generated a notice against Dr. Mane to stop his charitable work. But, in spite of all the objections, Dr. Mane was determined to help the people in this area. His wife, Dr. Sonali Mane, stood steadily by his side in this difficult time and they both continued to diagnose and treat patients, taking negligible fees. Slowly, even the few doctors who were opposing the couple, joined them instead. These doctors then started their project in a rented building, and thus the Dr. Mane Medical Foundation and Research Centre was formed.
“I was not sure, when I got married to him, if what my husband was doing was right. But his dedication and selfless work were a motivation for me to join him in this noble journey. I still remember one of our cancer detection camps at Wambori. A lady was trying to come forward for a check-up. But she was stinking so badly that people did not let her come near the camp. When we came to know about her, we checked her immediately and found out that there was pus secretion from her vagina that had been going on for months. The pus had a pungent smell and she was in deep pain. Due to financial constraints, she never went to a doctor for all these years. We operated her on a priority basis and removed her uterus, which was affected by fourth stage cancer. She visits us regularly now and keeps thanking us on each visit. These thank yous cannot match any amount of money in the world,” says Dr. Sonali Mane.
The Dr. Mane Medical Foundation and Research Centre is constantly researching and innovating to help cancer patients (Read more about their research here).
On extreme left, Dr. Sonali Mane and on extreme right, Dr. Swapnil Mane with a patient’s family
Novel instrument belt to lift patient from operation table to shifting trolley CBR No17524 dated 22/11/2013 (One of the patents filed by Dr. Mane)
However, carrying on all this work in a rented place was difficult and hence, on August 8, 2015, the Dr. Mane Medical Foundation and Research Centre started its own charitable hospital called Saidham.
Through their research, Dr. Mane’s team also recognized that there are some remedies that can help reduce the pain of cancer patients without any side effects. In this regard, they worked with one of the trustees of the foundation, Mr. Shishir Mandya, who has done extensive research on mucco-polysaccharides present in aloe vera and is a business development professional with 40 years of experience in Ayurveda.