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Helmsley Funds the Asian Healthcare Foundation in Southern India to Improve Care for Crohn’s Disease Patients Living Below the Poverty Line

Crohn’s disease on the rise in India; new grant will help raise awareness and prevent misdiagnosis

Today, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust announced a grant to the Asian Healthcare Foundation (AHF) to improve access to diagnostics for Crohn’s disease patients who are uninsured or living below the poverty line in Southern India. AHF is the research and training wing of Hyderabad’s Asian Institute of Gastroenterology (AIG), the largest gastroenterology hospital in the world, serving 10,000 patients daily.

Crohn’s disease incidence is rising in India, where the burden is second only to the U.S. Researchers believe the numbers are actually much higher as cases are often misdiagnosed. Indeed, Crohn’s disease is complicated to diagnose generally, and especially in a country where infectious diseases are still prevalent and many have symptoms similar to Crohn’s. Mis- or delayed diagnosis often leads to further health complications, which can include the need for surgery.

With Helmsley funding, AIG will be able to increase screenings for symptomatic patients with suspected Crohn’s disease using a basic blood test, abdominal ultrasound, and colonoscopy. These screenings will be free of cost for the 20% of people who live below the poverty line, or who can’t pay, to ensure early diagnosis and better health outcomes for everyone.

“Living with Crohn’s disease is a daily, lifelong challenge. Too often, the first challenge is a proper diagnosis. The Helmsley Charitable Trust is committed to supporting patients’ access to a full spectrum of care around the world,” said Sandor Frankel, a Trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust. “As Crohn’s disease becomes more common in countries like India undergoing an epidemiologic transition from infectious to chronic diseases, doctors need support distinguishing between the two, and know which therapies are best suited for which patients. Helmsley’s support to AIG will help make this possible.”

Led by Dr. Rupa Banerjee, a top gastroenterologist in India, this project will identify best practices and guidelines for Crohn’s disease care there. A newly created patient data repository and biobank will support future global research, offering opportunities to explore possible triggers of the disease, and to compare etiology among Crohn’s disease patients from different parts of the world. These analyses will potentially inform greater precision in treatment recommendations for South Asian patients, with care tailored to their specific needs and not based on what works in the U.S. and Europe.

“Access to and affordability of diagnostics are major challenges for Crohn’s disease patients in India, and there is an urgent need for early diagnosis,” said Dr. Rupa Banerjee, Director of the IBD Center at AIG. “This grant will allow us to screen patients in need, which will ensure timely treatment and better health outcomes.”

“Dr. Banerjee is impressive both in how she serves the immediate community in India, and how she partners with gastroenterologists and epidemiologists all over the globe. Helmsley values this collaborative mindset and the importance of sharing research findings to drive greater impact,” said Pretima Persad, Program Officer of the Helmsley Charitable Trust.