It's not just a zodiac sign, it's a killer disease!

The first reaction of a patient diagnosed with a terminal disease is that they have no hope. There's nothing anybody can do for them. While humans are helpless when it comes to illnesses like cancer, there is one man that rose to the occasion to bring a shot at better chances for these people way back in the 1960s.
Sharad Vaidya. Image source: Wikipedia

Sharad Vaidya. Image source: Wikipedia

Cancer is not just one disease. In fact, it's a group of diseases that involve abnormal cell growth with the possibility of spreading to other parts of the body, unlike benign tumours which do not spread. Cancer has a number of symptoms depending on its type. There are over 100 types that affect humans however tobacco use is the cause of about 22% of cancer deaths.

India is the second-largest consumer as well as producer of tobacco. In fact, a variety of tobacco products are available at a very low price in our country, you can probably see a lot of people using tobacco in smokeless forms like khaini, gutkha, betel quid with tobacco and zarda. Tobacco is also very popular in smoking forms like bidi, cigarettes and hookah.

Do you have a person around you who uses any of these forms? If you do, maybe it's time for you to step in and help them get rid of their addiction. You must know there are 1.35 million deaths every year in India from tobacco use. It's hard to get someone off tobacco addiction even if they are your loved ones. Imagine what must it be like to devote 100% of your time to eradicate deaths from tobacco use. Here is the tale of Sharad Vaidya for you.

Sharad Vaidya was born on 7 March 1936. He always knew he was going to be a doctor. His last name "Vaidya" means physician or doctor. It was so because his entire family had been involved in medical practices for over 350 years. He became a doctor and then qualified as a surgeon from the University of Bombay and King Edward Memorial Hospital, Bombay.

Sharad began practising as a surgeon in Goa where he worked as an assistant professor of surgery for five years and later he went on to establish his own hospital in Panaji along with his wife Dr. Nirmala S Vaidya. Sharad quickly became famous for his clinical and operative skills in general surgery orthopedic surgery and cancer surgery. He was no less than extraordinary when it came to these fields. Many times there were inadequate resources, so he began making new tools himself to help him perform the surgery. He became a developer of tools and one such example is the rapid film changer for cerebral angiograms.

It was while he was treating his cancer patients he recognized that one-third of cancer cases could simply be prevented. Dr Vaidya was extremely passionate about this cause. Every time he started talking about tobacco, he would get emotional. He went to lengths to find everything about the tobacco industry. He read about its agriculture, economy, and every single thing about it. He was the one to discover and publish the detail on how the excise tax laws of British India was majorly contributed by the chairman of Imperial Tobacco Company (it implies that tobacco brought in a huge sum of tax).

It seems India hasn't changed much because the same company now known as ITC, the largest in India, is still the largest contributor to exercise tax in India. They never let us forget how they are still the largest contributor to excise tax in India. Even in those days, Dr Vaidya well understood the power of economics over health. He said that one could understand tobacco much more by reading financial newspapers and that tobacco and the economy are closely related. He realized a large part of investment in tobacco companies in India were from public sector undertakings.

He started campaigns against tobacco and finally was able to convince the Goa assembly to pass the Goa Prohibition of Tobacco Act 1997. This Act was the effort of 30 years to educate people especially children of Goa the harmful effects of tobacco on their health. This law was a harbinger of similar laws in the rest of our country in fact this law was far ahead of similar laws in European countries. He believed "Tobacco entered India through Goa and it will leave via Goa".

He acquired a wide-ranging knowledge of the tobacco industry, tobacco economics and even tobacco agriculture, and a deeper understanding of the ways of the tobacco industry. He studied writings about the tobacco companies and books written by their executives. He would often come up with startling nuggets such as his discovery that the chairman of the Imperial Tobacco Company had played an important role in drafting the excise tax laws of British India, for which he was profusely thanked and rewarded by the government. Quite interesting when one considers that the same tobacco company (now ITC), the largest in India, does not let anyone forget for a moment that it is the largest contributor to excise tax in India.

Dr Vaidya had well understood the power of economics over health. He often said that one could understand tobacco much more by reading financial newspapers. He found out, for instance, that a large part of investment in tobacco companies in India and financial loans to them were from public sector undertakings.

He also recognised the fact that Goa lacked the facilities for treating cancer. He was already extremely busy with his clinical practice and existing patients. In the time he had left he started collecting funds and asked around people who could help him build a cancer hospital. Finally, in 1968, he was able to establish the Goa Cancer Society, the only second such society in entire India. He became the director and chief surgeon and he served there without a salary until 1993.

Unfortunately, we lost such a great soul on 19th October 2000 at Bombay airport while he was on his way from the UK to Goa. He had been such a crucial part of the tobacco prevention movement. Not only was he a gifted doctor but a great human being fighting to save lives.

Cancer, the Killer disease. Image source: Etsy

Cancer, the Killer disease. Image source: Etsy


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