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V. Shanta is an Indian oncologist and the chairperson of Adyar Cancer Institute, Chennai. She is best known for her efforts towards making quality and affordable cancer treatment accessible to all patients in her country. She has dedicated herself to the mission of organizing care for cancer patients, study of the disease, research on its prevention and cure, spreading awareness about the disease, and developing specialists and scientists in various subspecialties of oncology. Her work has her won several awards, including the Magsaysay Award, Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, and Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award given by the Government of India.
She has been associated with Adyar Cancer Institute since 1955, and has held several positions, including that of the director of the institute between 1980 and 1997. She has served as a member of several national and international committees on health and medicine, including the World Health Organization's Advisory Committee on Health.
She did her schooling from National Girls High School (now P.S. Sivaswamy Higher Secondary School) and had always wanted to become a doctor. She completed her graduation (M.B.B.S) from the Madras Medical College in 1949, D.G.O. in 1952, and M.D. (in Obstetrics & Gynecology) in 1955.
When Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy set up the Cancer Institute in 1954, Shanta was about to complete her Doctor of Medicine (M.D.). She had got through the Public Service Commission examination and had been posted to the Women and Children Hospital. In the 1940s and 1950s, Indian women who entered the medical profession generally took obstetrics and gynecology, but Shanta wanted to be different. She decided to join the Cancer Institute instead, upsetting many people in her family.
The institute began as a small, 12-bed cottage hospital with just a single building, minimal equipment and just two doctors, Shanta and Krishnamurthi. For three years she worked as honorary staff after which, the Institute offered to pay her Rs.200 per month and residence within the campus. She moved into the campus on 13 April 1955, and has remained there ever since. Through her untiring work in a career spanning several decades, she has helped transform the institute into a state-of-the-art facility and one of national and international repute.
Dr. Shanta is a member of the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission for Health. She is a strong advocate of early detection of cancer and the need to change public perception of the disease, especially the extreme fear and hopelessness associated with the disease. She has been particularly critical of the metaphorical usage of the name of the disease to describe a dangerous and uncontrollable situation or one of hopelessness.
"In an era when specialised medical care in India has become highly commercialised, Dr. Shanta strives to ensure that the Institute remains true to its ethos, `Service to all.' Its services are free or subsidised for some 60 per cent of its 100,000 annual patients [...] eighty-Seven-year-old Shanta still sees patients, still performs surgery, and is still on call twenty-four hours a day."
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