She Saw Cancer Stealing A Kid’s Life & Went On To Reform 30000+ Tobacco Addicts!

Written by Chaitra Krishnan, MA (Journalism & Mass Communication)  • 

Many of us smoke and chew tobacco and yes, it’s indeed our personal choice. However, we hardly get to know the intensity of the consequences of this deadly habit, until we experience it ourselves. Which is why an oral cancer survivor is not likely to smoke again, and a liver cancer survivor would probably give up on the idea of drinking. While most of us take responsibility for what our actions might put us into, there are many people who smoke and drink without even knowing about their ill-effects. Sadly, this section of people includes children as well. This is why there are NGOs and doctors, who work day and night, to spread awareness and give counseling to help them out.

Dr. Sumedha Kushwaha, a dentist by profession, also took up the responsibility of spreading awareness about tobacco consumption. Her NGO, Aim To Terminate Tobacco and Cancer (ATTAC), has helped more than thirty thousand people with tobacco addiction. That’s a huge number, but we still need many more people like Dr. Sumedha in our country to make it a better place. Let’s get know more about Dr. Sumedha’s journey.

When It All Began

Image: Facebook

Dr. Sumedha holds an MDS in Public Health Dentistry. She completed her education in 2007, from ITS Dental College, Delhi. One of the things that struck her during her studies was the disturbing number of pre-cancerous patients, who she attended to in the Out Patient Department.

“The entire thrust of all we learned was about cancer. In a majority of cases, we found that the cause for it was the consumption of tobacco. While there are various awareness programs about the ill-effects of tobacco, a large section of people who are addicts, have no means of letting go of their addiction, and I wanted to do something about it,” she said in an interview with an online media website. This is probably why she had an urge to help people who were addicted to tobacco.

Everything changed for Dr. Sumedha when she met Raju (name changed), a 13-year-old child who was suffering from oral cancer. He was in so much pain that he couldn’t even open his mouth. Raju was only six when some older kids in the village introduced him to gutka. At first, he used it because he wanted to hang out with the older boys, but soon it became a habit. By the time Raju was thirteen, he was consuming gutka regularly. He realized that he had oral cancer when he attended the health camp in his village, where he met Dr. Sumedha.

She said that seeing the child suffer in pain broke something in her. According to her, the worst part of the whole story is that these children who get addicted to tobacco, know that their habit can lead them to a horrific disease and yet, they continue with it. Dr. Sumedha wanted to fight this ignorance because she couldn’t see the youth throwing away their beautiful lives, just like that. This is a major reason why she wanted to become a trained counselor.

The Journey Of Counselling

With the aim of getting training in counseling, Dr. Sumedha joined a reputed hospital. But soon she realized that the money they were charging the patients was too much. This was true, especially for the majority of such patients, who were from underprivileged backgrounds. So, she started working with different NGOs that served this purpose, and at the same time, got her training in counseling at the hospital.

During her college days, whenever she had to attend medical camps in rural areas, Dr. Sumedha and her friends made sure to provide assistance to those people who lived in areas outside of the camp’s purview. She and her friends, went from one village to another, organizing camps on their own, even when they didn’t have much medical equipment with them. Dr. Sumedha was always the person who spoke about the purpose of the camp to the villagers, and this is probably why she turned out to be very good at counseling, later on in her life.

Image: Facebook

Dr. Sumedha and her friends set up ATTAC in 2014, with the aim of helping people who were addicted to tobacco, and to spread awareness on the same. The five major goals of the foundation are creating awareness, empowerment, caution, providing strategy, and assistance, and follow up with a cure. Most of the organization’s funding came from the Yuvraj Singh Foundation (YouWeCan Foundation). ATTAC also conducts talks in corporate spaces and charges 5000 to 10,000 Rupees for each talk. This money is divided amongst the health workers, who participate in that particular event. ATTAC has covered Tier 1 cities so far, and they hope to expand their services to Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities as well.

With tobacco being one of the major killers in India, it’s imperative to educate people about the harmful effects of its consumption. Let’s pledge to help people who are addicted to tobacco, either by volunteering, donating money to organizations working with tobacco addicts, or simply by talking to someone who needs our help.

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