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Lack of facilities bedevils national cancer institute
Shahin Haque, 30, from Monirampur, Jashore was diagnosed with lung cancer after he took admission to the National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital at Mohakhali in the capital on October 17.
Doctors referred him to the nearby National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital, Bangladesh’s lone government run cancer hospital.
His family waited in vain for three days to get him admitted to NICRH and gave up the hope that he could receive treatment in Bangladesh.
They were taking the preparations to take him to India for treatment when Shahin died on Wednesday night.
The family had nowhere to live in the capital so they went back to their village home on way to India when the curtain fell on Shahin’s life.
‘My nephew could possibly live a little longer only if he got the treatment in Bangladesh,’ Shahin’s maternal uncle Moinul Haque told BDchronicle Thursday after he died without any treatment.
On Thursday, 65-year old Rafiqul Islam from Atgharia, Pabna was seen waiting at the NICRH for four hours to get radiation therapy.
Accompanied by his family members, Rafique shuttled between Pabna and the capital four times in last three weeks expecting to get urgently needed radiation therapy at the NICRH.
His brain cancer was detected three months ago.
‘On October 14, doctors told us that they need to draw a plan before starting radiation therapy on my father, but they could make the plan until now,’ said the patient’s son Omar Ali.
‘Is it possible for a family to shuttle between Pabna and the capital with a cancer patient?’ asked Omar, who runs a mobile repair shop at his village.
Failing to get the chemo therapy serial for 60-year old lung cancer patient Abdur Rashid, his disappointed son Sajjadur Rahman was seen waiting on the corridors of the NICRH on Thursday.
He said his father was diagnosed with lung cancer at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital a month back.
‘DMCH referred my father to the NICRH, a month has passed but we could neither get my father admitted to the NICRH nor get the chemo therapy serial for him,’ said Sajjad.
Just like them thousands of other families with cancer patients have similar experiences to narrate after seeking treatments at the NICRH.
At every department of the NICRH, including the emergency, the outdoor as well as the radiotherapy department, hundreds of patients could be seen waiting in long queues each and every day.
The 300-bed NICRH can barely admit 20 to 25 patients per day, keeping at least 200 others waiting though they need admission immediately, said Rafiqul Islam, NICRH’s chief medical officer for medical oncology.
In 1989, the NICRH was opened with only the out- patient department.
Three years later, it got 50 indoor beds and in in 2009, 100 more beds were added and 150 more beds were added in 2014, to make a 300-bed hospital.
To receive radiotherapy, around 1,000 to 1,200 patients come to the NICRH every day, but with five radiation therapy machines, it can provide the radiotherapy to some 550 patients per day, said NICRH cancer epidemiology associate professor Johirul Islam.
To tackle the patient flow, we have to keep patients waiting for months by giving the serial tokens, he said.
In 2017, NICRH provided treatment to 1,95,816 patients at the OPD and 6,327 others at the emergency department.
In 2017, he said, NICRH admitted 8,918 cancer patients.
According to a report released in September by the International Agency for Research on Cancer run by the World Health Organization, annually about 1.08 lakh people die of cancer and 1.5 lakh others get infected with cancer in Bangladesh.
Four year earlier, IARC said annually 1.2 lakh people were diagnosed with cancer and 90,000 of them died per annum in Bangladesh.
NICRH head of cancer epidemiology Habibullah Talukder Ruskin said that latest IARC report revealed that the number of cancer patients were rising in Bangladesh.
He said that growing habit of consumption of tobacco, alcohol, arsenic contaminated food and water, animal protein and fat, exposure to radiation and ultra-violate ray, girls’ early marriage, multiple sex partners and lack of personal hygiene and physical activity were the major reasons for the country’s rising number of cancer patients.
Habibullah described the state of cancer treatment in Bangladesh as ‘poor’.
There are only nine government run hospitals to treat cancer in Bangladesh, two in the capital and one each in Chittagong, Rajshahi, Bogra, Barisal, Mymensingh, Rangpur and Sylhet, but most of them lack fully-fledged department.
Besides, there are six private cancer hospitals in the country.
Adequate doctors are not being produced for cancer treatment in Bangladesh as in between 2015 and 2016, no doctors passed FCPS and MCPS in any discipline of oncology and only 13 did in radiotherapy, according to National Health Bulletin 2017, published in January 2018.
Bangladesh has only 170 oncologists.
Habibullah said that the incidence of non-communicable diseases was increasing in the country with cancer accounting for the 2nd highest mortality from non-communicable ailments.
But inadequate cancer treatment facilities leave patients in the lurch, he said.
Habibullah said that due to poverty cancer patients in Bangladesh cannot afford treatment, as it is costly and are left with no choice but to wait for death.
‘Many of them rely on homeopathic physicians or herbal intervention by quacks as they cannot go to the NICRH or abroad, ’ he said.
Health minister Mohammad Nasim told BDchronicle recently that the number of cancer patients was increasing in Bangladesh as elsewhere in the world and that the government was paying serious attention to it.
The minister said that the NICRH would be modernized and expanded and a friendly country has expressed its willingness to provide the funds.
He said that cancer hospitals would be set up in each division.