Cancer hospital: How long will the equipment remain out of order?

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

There is everything at the National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital (NICRH), the prime institute for treating cancer in Bangladesh, except the necessary equipment. The equipment is out of order.

The patients admitted to the 500-bed NICRH at Mohakhali in Dhaka are not getting radiotherapy treatment, said a Prothom Alo report. All of the radiotherapy machines are out of order. The authorities could not say how long it would take to repair the existing ones or bring new equipment. Another astounding fact is the X-ray machine of the hospital is also out or order for the last two weeks.

A cancer patient is mainly treated in three ways – chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. Cancer is such a disease that can spread fast if the radiotherapy is stopped midway.

This hospital provides treatment to largest number of cancer patients in the country with around 1000-1200 take treatment at the outdoor every day. The cheaper cost of radiotherapy is the main reason of so many patients taking treatment here. A session of radiotherapy costs only Tk 200 at the hospital while the cost is Tk 4000-8000 at any private hospital.

Prothom Alo published a photo of the hospital on 15 February that showed there was no patient at the radiotherapy department. As per the WHO standard, there should be at least 170 cancer centres in the country but there is only 33 including the government and private ones. It is not tough to assume how the other cancer hospitals are faring when the largest hospital is in such a shambolic state.

Patients are rushing abroad as there are less facilities of treating complex diseases like cancer and kidney diseases here. Just a month ago kidney patients demonstrated in front of Chittagong Medical College Hospital on demand of cheaper dialysis opportunity. Because of the demonstration the authorities met the demand. The question is whether the cancer patients also have to demonstrate on demand of repairing the equipment that went out of order.

Speaking to Prothom Alo cancer specialist Habibullah Talukder, who went on retirement in December last, said, “It is unthinkable that all the machines of a cancer hospital becomes non-operational at a time and not even a single patient would get treatment. Sometimes the patients need to wait for six months to get their turn. Now the time will be extended from one to one and a half years.”

Those who are solvent can go abroad or visit private hospitals inside the country to take treatment but the insolvent people have no alternative except the government hospitals.

The culture of avoiding responsibilities and blaming others, like the authorities of National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital and Directorate General of Health Services did this time, must end. Sometimes, there are allegations that the necessary equipment at government hospitals are kept out of order intentionally so that private hospitals can do business uninterruptedly. An unbiased and proper investigation is necessary as to why all the necessary equipment at cancer hospital remains non-operational. The authorities must take emergency action to make the necessary machines operational or supply new machines for better treatment of the patients.