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Cancer treatment delayed for lack of equipment

Sajia Afrin

Cancer patients need to wait long periods before they can get admitted to hospital because of severe shortage of radiotherapy machines.
Yusuf, father of four-year-old Fahim who was admitted to National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital in the past week, said that his child only got admission after waiting for 20 days. ‘I came here to have my child admitted 20 days go but only today have I managed to get him admitted.’
Fahim was also only just admitted after he had been told by the physicians to return after three weeks.
Another patient, Sumaiya, had came to the hospital from Kushtia with her mother and had to wait 14 days for admission. ‘I have no relatives here and had to sleep outside the hospital,’ her mother said. ‘Every day the hospital authorities asked us to come tomorrow.’
These stories reflect the common experience of
cancer patients in Bangladesh, cancer experts told New Age.
‘Because of delay in treating the cancer, patients become more seriously ill,’ said Syed Akram Hossain, the chief consultant of clinical oncology at Labaid Specialised Hospital and also a former chairman of the oncology department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.
About 80 per cent of the cancer patients who come to the medical facility have cancers in an advanced stage, he said.
Akram said that these patients could not be cured and needed immediate treatment to reduce the pain and prolong their lives.
About 20 radiotherapy machines, either cobalt or the high-tech linear machines, are available in the country in public and private hospitals.
This is not enough for providing 200,000 or so cancer patients throughout the country with treatment, said the National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital director, Mollah Obayedullah Baki.
‘The situation forces affluent people to go abroad or go to a private hospital for cancer treatment,’ he said.
He said that only five linear machines are available at three government hospitals while eight medical college hospitals are running the cobalt machines for radiotherapy.
‘This is why it takes time to get patients admitted for therapy,’ said Mollah Obayedullah Baki, also president of the Bangladesh Cancer Society.
According to the World Health Organisation, at least one cancer treatment centre is required to provide cancer treatment and screening for each 10 lakh of the population.
‘So, at least 150 centres are required in the country to provide screening and treatment for the population of about 15 crore,’ Mollah Obayedullah Baki said.
Experts emphasised installation of more cobalt machines although this machine is hardly used in developed countries.
‘Cobalt machines are basically better to treat the advanced cancer patient, who are in palliative care,’ said Khondoker Siddique-E-Rabbani, chairman of the Biomedical Physics and Technology department in Dhaka University.
He said the maintenance cost of cobalt machine is much less compared with the linear machine and a highly trained person is required to maintain the linear machine, he said.
Electricity consumption of cobalt machines is also very low and such machines can operate in situations where there are intermittent power fails.
But the linear machine, which is essential for the treatment of early-stage cancer treatment, needs uninterrupted power supply through a generator if power fails, the experts said.
Most experts emphasised the need for purchasing both cobalt and linear machines, suggesting that for every one linear machine they should buy five cobalt machines.

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