Rajshahi Cancer Hospital: Well equipped, but underutilised | Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 12, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:39 AM, June 12, 2019

Rajshahi Cancer Hospital: Well equipped, but underutilised

It’s a cancer hospital and research centre, but it treats far more general patients than those with cancer. Its 45 beds are almost always empty while all its modern machines remain mostly unused.

This four-storey specialised hospital in Rajshahi’s Shyampur has eight doctors, but no permanent oncologist and they pay visits to the hospital only on call. 

Over the last five months, The Daily Star visited the hospital five times and found no patients on four occasions. On another occasion, three “patients” were found occupying three beds, but subsequent investigation revealed none of them had cancer.

A source familiar with the workings of the hospital said the authorities used the facility to bring in foreign donation. The authorities denied the claim.

The hospital in question, Rajshahi Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, was built between 2000 and 2007 with foreign funds -- mostly from Kristiansand Kommune of Norway and the Rotary International, according to its website.  

It has 26 staff members, including eight part-time doctors, four nurses, and two laboratory technicians, none of whom are permanent and have little or no expertise in the field of cancer, sources have said.

Last year, the hospital treated over 8,000 diabetes patients when only 146 cancer patients took treatment there, hospital records show. 

THE FAKE CANCER PATIENTS

On the second visit on January 26, the hospital authorities led this correspondent to three “cancer patients”.

They claimed that two of the three beds were occupied by two elderly women diagnosed with cancer, who were admitted just the day before for chemotherapy. The third bed’s occupant was a woman who came to get a test done.

But the “patients” said they were never diagnosed with cancer and that they only had problems like headache, chest pain and abdomen pain.   

Pori Jaan, from Shyampur, is one of them. She said the hospital authorities brought them to the hospital from their home that very morning, and not the day before as the hospital authorities initially claimed.

That morning, the hospital held its annual general meeting in its conference room. The meeting was attended by the trustee board members and other dignitaries.

“The women were made to impersonate patients to show the meeting participants that there were some kind of activities in the hospital,” said a source, requesting anonymity.

Pressed for an answer, Dr Patrick Bipul Biswas, one of the founders of the hospital, admitted that the women were not cancer patients. 

“Something went wrong… The cancer patients scheduled to visit today [January 26] could not come,” he said.

About why they were occupying beds, he said they had come to “visit the hospital.”

During the four other visits -- on January 22 and 30 and on May 21 and 30 -- The Daily Star found no cancer patients. 

One cancer patient who took treatment at the hospital in the past said cancer specialists were available only for an hour, two days a week. So she stopped going there. 

Patrick said the hospital’s annual budget of Tk 40 lakh was not sufficient to hire expert doctors on a permanent basis.

EQUIPMENT RARELY USED

Bangladesh has more than 15 lakh cancer patients now, with about 2 lakh new cases detected every year, according to the World Health Organisation.

For many of these people, cancer treatments are still a dream for two reasons -- it is highly expensive and cancer treatment facilities are inadequate 

According to Cancer Awareness Foundation Bangladesh, there are only 37 hospitals in the country that treat cancer. The list does not include Rajshahi Cancer Hospital and Research Centre. 

Even so, most equipment at the Rajshahi Cancer Hospital and Research Centre remain unutilised for most part of the year.

Last year for example, this hospital bought the lone mammogram machine in all of Rajshahi region, which detects breast cancer which is common among women in Bangladesh.

The machine has so far been used only 18 times, records show.

Also last year, the Rotary International donated a “Mobile Clinic Vehicle” to detect cancer through field visits. Although it is scheduled to go on field visit four days a week, it did so only six times till date.

Its blood bank, equipped with a modern blood separating machine, was used only once last year and not at all so far this year. The hospital also has a rich stock of vaccines for preventing cervical cancer in women, which are all lying idle in the freezer. And in its two operation theatres were used to perform 14 surgeries in the last two years. But all were either circumcisions or cleft lips operations, records show.

Once a doctor at a Christian missionary hospital in Rajshahi and Rangpur region, Patrick said he had seen many cancer patients suffer, often because of late diagnosis and inadequate treatment facilities. He wanted to do something about it and subsequently started collecting funds from his friends abroad.

“Building this hospital was my dream. But we have yet to build the capacity to make it fully functional. We have a long way to go,” he said.

At present, the “non-profit” hospital can treat about 50 outdoor cancer patients daily, he said.

Asked about the lack of patients, he said, “In general, there is a lack of oncologists. Also, cancer patients do not come to our hospital in large numbers as they do not know about our treatment facilities.”

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