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Man & machine crisis hits cancer care in NE

BY OUR STAFF REPORTER

GUWAHATI, Feb 22: Even though the latest survey by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) reveals that cancer burden in Northeast India is among the highest in the world, the region lacks both sufficient machines and manpower to treat the dreaded disease.

Despite having the highest number of liver cancer patients in the country and the second highest stomach cancer cases in the world after Chi, Aruchal Pradesh does not have any cancer treatment facility.

Sources told The Sentinel that similar situation prevails in other Northeastern States, including Mizoram, which has the highest number of cancer cases in the country. Barring Assam, no State government in the Northeast has so far been able to set up a hospital to exclusively look after cancer patients.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stipulated that one tele-therapy machine is required per 10 lakh population. Going by WHO guidelines, the  Northeast will require at least 45 such machines. The region has a combined population of 4,57,72,188 according to 2011 census. There are only 15 tele-therapy machines in all seven NE States, of which Assam alone has nine machines. However, Assam requires 30 such machines, considering its 3.1 crore population.

Teletherapy is the most recognized type of radiation therapy, which uses a source outside the body to treat cancer. Sources in the B. Borooah Cancer Institute (BBCI) in Guwahati said that apart from shortage of machines, the Northeast also faces shortage of trained manpower to treat cancer patients.

“There is a definite shortage of doctors and nurses at BBCI, the lone full-fledged cancer institute in the Northeast,” a source said. An estimated 36,221 new cancer cases are detected every year in Northeastern States. The high incidence of cancer in the region can be gauged from the fact that nearly 10,000 patients have been reporting to BBCI alone every year since 2014.

Under such circumstances, those who can afford cancer treatment either go outside Assam or come to BBCI in Guwahati for treatment, while many poor patients die of cancer without any medical care, sources pointed out.

Being the lone full-fledged cancer treatment institute in the State, the BBCI has long been burdened with huge load of patients. Even though the recent iuguration of a cancer hospital at Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) is expected to ease this burden somewhat, much needs be done by State governments in terms of creating trained manpower and procuring machines to bring succor to cancer patients in the region.

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Ankur Kalita