SRINAGAR: Even as number of cases of life-consuming cancer has alarmingly risen in Kashmir, successive regimes have even failed to introduce specialized diagnostic devices, which can detect the disease at early stages, when chances of recovery are higher.
Over the years, the fate of cancer patients has been so pathetic that public circles take the mere diagnosis of this disease as death warrant, only because when the ailment is diagnosed, its often the last stage, when treatment rarely proves fruitful.
Health experts said the cancer prevention and early detection was possible only if hi-tech devices are like PET-CT Scan are introduced at government-run hospitals, particularly Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Soura and SMHS Hospital.
But despite the desperate need for such machines, over the years little has been done on the ground except for issuance of customary statements from the government that healthcare sector is being improved for the benefit of the common people.
Oncologists believe that cancer can be reduced and controlled by implementing evidence-based strategies while as the tumors have high chance of cure, provided diagnosed early and treated adequately.
Kashmirs sole tertiary care hospital, the SKIMS, which is often seen as the last hope for medical treatment of such cases is in fact proving the lost hope; the hospital is least equipped in comparison to the diagnostic infrastructure actually needed.
This year alone, the Department of Oncology and Clinical Haematology, SKIMS received around 1200 cancer patients from January to April.
Officials said in majority of the cases, the disease was detected at the last stage, something which could have been avoided, if requisite infrastructure particularly PET CT Scan was in place.
We are facing shortage of vital equipment in the hospital. We are not at all advanced in cancer research including diagnostics and treatment, admitted a senior medico, asking not to be named.
Medicos said devices like Linear Accelerator and PET-CT Scan, the basic equipment needed for detection of malignancies are not available at the hospital, while there is equally no proper facility for mammography, needed to detect breast cancer.
Another vital device Cyclotron Particle Accelerator (Proton Therapy Equipment for cancer treatment) is also not available, thus patients are bound to suffer, said an oncologist.
Cancer of corruption
The lack of these facilities has something to do with corruption, which is proving no less than cancer for the state. A member of the State Advisory Committee of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) believes that funds worth hundreds of crores, provided by the central and the state governments for establishment of such facilities were either swindled or left unutilized.
Sources said though a Linear Accelerator was procured by SKIMS, it failed to give desired results only because the machine was found substandard.
As if this was not enough, the device was procured at inflated price. This device which should not have cost more than Rs 10 crores was procured for almost double the price, while the product proved substandard, the sources said.
Even though the Linear Accelerator has been defunct for years, successive regimes failed to initiate inquiry into the multi-crore scam. This is despite the fact that Chief Ministers including Omar Abdulllah and his successor Mufti Muhammad Sayeed took cognizance of complaints of maladministration at the SKIMS.
High Court intervention
Coming to the rescue of the people, the High Court in February 2016 directed the state to install PET Scan at Government Medical College run hospitals in the state. But if sources in the corridors of power are to be believed, nothing has been done on ground as yet.
The High Court in its directive had observed that Constitution of India mandates the states to provide facilities for health care. Out of the one crore population of Jammu and Kashmir, at least 1% is suffering from one or the other type of cancer. Even though Medical Education Department has established Medical Colleges, no health care facility worth the name for the treatment of cancer is provided and no PET scan machines to diagnose the same has been made available,” the court observed.
While presently the government has assigned the charge of Director SKIMS to a non-medico, making the hospital vulnerable to derecognition, his predecessor Dr Showkat Ali Zaragar who retired on June 2 said the hospital received Rs 120 Crore for procurement of such devices while Rs 70 crores have already been spent.
But doctors said on ground nothing exists, which could prevent Kashmir from alarming rise in cancer, its early detection, or prevention.
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