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Students teach kids dangers of 'gutka' in India

  • Story Highlights
  • Students from University of Southern California go to India to improve quality of life
  • Team teaches locals how to prevent oral cancer, one of top 3 cancers in India
  • Other team provides innovative water treatment measures to stop disease
  • Students develop comic, board game and posters to teach children
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Editor's Note: CNNU is following two student teams from the University of Southern California as they work to improve the quality of life in India. The student teams will be writing about their experiences for CNNU throughout the summer. Check back regularly for updates on their work. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN or its affiliates.

Students read the comic developed by Oral Cancer Awareness Team about the dangers of gutka.

What are you doing on your summer vacation? If you are an innovative student from the University of Southern California, the answer might be going to India, providing innovative water treatment measures to mitigate the spread of waterborne diseases, or educating locals on how to prevent oral cancer.

The USC Stevens Institute for Innovation has partnered with the Deshpande Foundation, a prominent philanthropic foundation focused on innovation and international development, to help student innovators develop scalable ideas for improving the quality of life in specific regions of India.

CNNU first introduces the Oral Cancer Awareness Team. Check back for information from the Water Treatment Team.

Oral Cancer Awareness Team: Project overview

Splatters of dark red spit cover the streets and walls of India. These marks are the result of a relatively recent cultural phenomenon, a new form of chewing tobacco called gutka.

A very large percentage of the Indian population uses gutka; that equates to hundreds of millions of people, and many remain unaware of the great risk of oral cancer. This project, supported by the Deshpande Foundation and the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation at the University of Southern California, is directed at disseminating education about the adverse effects of this societal habit.

Gutka is a mixture of concentrated tobacco and flavorings, recently developed by tobacco companies. It is more addictive than cigarettes, and therefore it created its own market almost overnight. Although seen throughout every level of society, the habit of chewing gutka is particularly prevalent in people of lower socioeconomic status.

In the U.S., oral cancer is one of the less commonly occurring cancers. However, in India, oral cancer is one of the top three, owing directly to the practice of chewing tobacco. It is often fatal because proper medical care is expensive and sometimes difficult to access, particularly for people of lower socioeconomic status.

These patients come to the doctor only once the cancer has reached its late stages. Even in its early stages, oral cancer often requires invasive surgical interventions that can be disfiguring and disabling.

Despite the facts, addicts often continue their behaviors because their bodies have become dependent on the substance. This project is directed at children in the hopes that through early education, we can discourage them from starting the habit. This kind of anti-gutka campaign is lacking in Hubli and most parts of India.

We have developed a comic, a board game and a set of posters to teach children about the risks of gutka in a way they can relate to. We have also developed a set of educational pamphlets to be distributed at local clinics.


All our materials have been translated to Kannada, the local language, to increase the accessibility of our message. Our hope is that our model will be replicated across the country.

We have English materials that can be used as hard copies for translation into other languages. We have also been working with several local non-governmental organizations that have offered their support, and with their help, we will be able to continue our work throughout the year, after we leave Hubli.

All About IndiaDental and Oral Health

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