Inadequate cancer care in the country

Prothom Alo File Photo
Prothom Alo File Photo

Cancer patients in Bangladesh are deprived of quality treatment as there are only 26 integrated treatment centers in the country, against the total requirement for at least 170.

Specialists say, government medical centres have an overflow of patients. Everyone cannot afford the high cost of treatment at private hospitals.

Meanwhile, cancer patients in the country are steadily increasing in number.

Latest data (2018) of the International Agency for Research on Cancer under the World Health Organisation shows, more than 150,000 people in the country are being afflicted every year. The organisation said in 2012, a total of 121,000 people are afflicted with cancer every year in the country.

“A cancer patient needs integrated treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, skilled manpower, machineries and laboratories,” said Medical Oncology Society of Bangladesh president Shahida Akhter.

She also said that people were not getting quality service due to inadequate infrastructure and shortage of manpower.

Health scenario in Bangladesh

According to the World Health Organisation, there needs to be one cancer medical centre for every one million people, with a team of skilled physicians, nurses and technicians and modern equipment. Accordingly, for a country of 170 million people, there are 170 such centers needed.

In November last year, a survey on patients with cancer and kidney disease of the Dhaka University's Institute of Health Economics reveals, there are only 26 cancer clinics in the country. Of these 16 are government hospitals and remaining are privately owned or run by various NGOs.

The largest cancer hospital in the country is the National Cancer Research Institute and Hospital of Mohakhali. During a visit on Sunday, it was seen that the 300-bed hospital was teeming with patients. Patients and their families were sitting or lying on the floor and there was a long queue in front of the counter.

"In India, there are 21 radiation therapy machines to provide treatment to 500 patients every day. We have only 6 radiation therapy machines for 500 patients," said Moarraf Hossain, the director of the cancer institute.

Habibullah Talukder, head of the Department of Epidemiology, said the institute has modern equipment. There is no shortage of manpower as well. But due to the huge number of patients, it was simply not possible to provide quality service.

Poverty prevents treatment

Both Shahida Akhter and Habibullah Talukdar said that due to the lack of money, people do not avail treatment or stopped treatment midway.

The Institute of Health Economics of Cancer and Kidney Diseases at Dhaka University, showed in a survey that a cancer patient has to spend 500,000 taka to 600,000 taka for treatment in private hospitals in the country.

In government hospitals the treatment can be done for 200,000 taka as a patient gets drugs worth 50,000 taka to 60,000 taka free of cost.

In its election manifesto, ruling Awami League pledged to open a cancer unit at every government medical college hospital in the country and to establish a 100-bed full cancer treatment center in each divisional town.

Moarraf Hossain said, “Modern facilities are available only in this hospital. So patients from all over the country come here.”

“There are not enough beds in the hospital. Many people have to pay extra to stay in Dhaka. Many of them cannot afford that. The situation will improve if the government implements its commitment,” he said.