Cancer care services far too inadequate
Though the number of cancer patients is growing alarmingly in the country, treatment facilities and specialist doctors are few and far between for lack of a comprehensive oncology education programme, said experts.
As a result, they said, nearly 50 percent cancer patients have to go abroad spending a lot of money for treatment of the deadly diseases while many others either stop continuing treatment halfway through or die without treatment.
According to the officials at National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital (NICRH), there are only 16 medical oncologists in Bangladesh against the requirement of at least 2,000-2,500.
Besides, they said, the country requires at least 5,000 hospital beds for cancer patients but now it has only 500.
Talking to the news agency, Prof Dr MA Hai, chief patron of Medical Oncology Society in Bangladesh, said it is estimated that about 2 lakh people are affected with cancer in the country every year.
“Our existing treatment facilities can serve hardly 70,000-75,000 patients. The vast majority of patients either go abroad or remain undetected, and possibly die untreated or of maltreatment,” he said.
He said it is urgent to develop infrastructure and increase equipment and adequate skilled manpower to ensure cancer treatment facilities at least in every division.
Dr Muhammad Rafiqul Islam of NICRH said the number of cancer patients is on the rise due to various factors, including food contamination, unhealthy diet with low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, infection, environment pollution, smoking and genetic problems.
He said there are now around 15 to 20 lakh cancer patients in Bangladesh while around 2 lakh more such patients are added every year. “Of them, 1.2 lakh die each year.”
Dr Islam said more than 50 percent cancer patients go abroad for treatment for lack of healthcare facilities and skilled manpower in the country. “We’ve only 16 oncologists in the country,” he said.
He said there is a severe shortage of efficient manpower in specialised cancer treatment for lack of a comprehensive oncology education programme. “We want medical oncology to be included in most of the medical colleges to increase the number of doctors,” he added. Prof Dr Kanak Kanti Barua, vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said cancer is now a major challenge for the country.
“Concentrations and patterns of pollution in developing countries like Bangladesh have altered dramatically with rapid economic development and urbanisation over the past decade, which is associated with cancer or mortality, especially for high pollution ranges and lifestyle factors,” Prof Barua said.
“We need adequate skilled manpower to address the problem,” he observed.
Prof Parveen Shahida Akhter, chairperson of Medical Oncology Society in Bangladesh, said cancer treatment is a multidisciplinary approach and medical oncologists are part and parcel of comprehensive cancer management.
“We’ve a few medical oncologists, which is very insufficient compared to the need. Also, seats are limited at the entry point and there is scarcity of posts,” she said.
Besides, there are no medical oncology departments in medical college hospitals in our country except for NICRH, Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital, Cancer Centre and Combined Military Hospital, she said.
Prof Akhter said all these centres are Dhaka-based and overburdened with huge number of cancer patients. “This situation frequently hampers the quality of cancer management and increases the treatment costs and sufferings of patients.”
To overcome the problem, the country needs to decentralise cancer care and ensure modern and well-managed cancer facilities in the peripheries as soon as possible, she stressed.