Combined initiatives needed against cancer in Bangladesh


Cancer isn’t like any other disease. If not detected in time and taken care of, it slowly and surely kills people. Late detection and treatment often results in partial recovery and physical impairment, not to mention the emotional trauma and logistical hardship the patient and family undergo.

More than 90 million people across the globe suffer from cancer. About 14 million new cases occur every year. The cancer related death count was a staggering 9.6 million in 2018. The situation is dire in Bangladesh too.

Every year there are about 150,000 new cancer patients in countries already with high cancer patient count of about 1.5 million. And 12,764 new breast cancer cases in the last one year account for about 8.5% of all new cancer patients over the year.

In Bangladesh lack of awareness of early symptoms and causes of cancer is a big issue. Another big issue is the diagnosis and treatment facilities alongside an adequate number of qualified doctors and nurses. Government budget allocation in countries like Bangladesh is inadequate for the development of doctors, nurses, care staff, medical equipment and facilities related to cancer.

This creates a vacuum that should be filled by private, private-public partnership and national and international collaborative and combined efforts. One such example is the partnership between an American cancer treatment and training team from Partners for World Health (PWH), National Institute for Cancer Research and Hospital (NICRH) and Rotary Club of Dhaka Mavericks. The American team not only offers free treatment and training to Bangladeshi patients and medical staff twice a year, they also bring along some very useful cancer drugs and equipment related to diagnosis and treatment which they use here in Bangladesh and later hand over to Bangladeshi hospitals.

NICRH and other partner hospitals generally outside Dhaka are also cooperative in the endeavour. Rotary Club of Dhaka Mavericks does excellent planning and facilitation of the whole effort by setting a target via consultation with stake holders, coordination, logistical arrangements, event management, hospitality and sourcing of necessary funds.

Since Bangladesh is experiencing a rise in cancer prevalence, the Rotary Club of Dhaka Mavericks, are trying to create a pool of Bangladeshi medical experts, with the help of US based PWH, trained to render quality treatment and post-treatment care to the patients. Since 2017, each year, the club organises two missions, one focusing on cancer care every October and another focusing on burn, maternal, child and general health every March.

This is the third year in a row that the club is organising this mission, and this will be the 5th International Medical Mission and 3rd one focusing on cancer care. Till date, more than 500 doctors and more than 2500 nurses on different spectrums of cancer care, burn, maternal, child and general health have been trained. In addition, 100 nurses have undergone certificate courses on US standard chemotherapy administration. The medical mission takes place again, as usual, in mid-October this year.

The deficiencies in medical staff and infrastructure related to cancer in Bangladesh are big. The government alone can’t fix the problem. Private- national and international- partners, big or small, must come forward and join hands to contribute to this essential service for the people of Bangladesh and help reduction and treatment of cancer.

Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is a freelance commentator on politics, society and international relations.