Ravi Kannan, a surgical oncologist from Chennai who has treated over 70,000 cancer patients free of cost, has been conferred with the Padma Shri. Dr Kannan is one of the 118 recipients of India's fourth highest civilian honour for 2020, and one of the "unsung heroes" praised by union minister Piyush Goyal in a video tribute for this year's winners.
Also known Silchar's saviour, Dr Kannan quit his job in Chennai and shifted to Assam with family in 2007 to make healthcare accessible in the Barak valley. Before he transformed healthcare in the valley, their nearest hospital was 300 kilometers away.
The oncologist now runs the Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in Silchar that caters to people from all socio-economic backgrounds. Besides providing free treatment to cancer patients, the hospital also provides accommodation, food and employment.
Dr Ravi Kannan's contribution goes beyond providing just treatment. When he saw a child eating puffed rice in water with chillies, for example, he asked management to provide food for patients.
In 2011, however, an in-house study found that only 28% of people who tested positive for cancer returned to the hospital for treatment. The reason, Dr Kannan realised, was that patients and their caregivers were losing out on their daily wages during treatment.
That's when the hospital decided to offer patients and their attendants jobs that would require unskilled labour. This initiative, along with other measures, saw compliance go up to 70% as people took on jobs like carpentry, watering plants etc at the hospital.
"I shifted to Assam from Chennai in 2007. It is all due to the teamwork of 350 individuals who work at the hospital. I think if the progress made in science does not reach the common man, then it is a failure of the system," Dr Kannan said to news agency ANI after his win.