Guwahati, July 25: Irregular supply of medicines has hobbled the free chemotherapy scheme in Assam with only a few cancer patients now able to enjoy its benefits.
Sources told The Telegraph that even though the scheme was hugely successful and covered a large number of patients for the initial years following its launch in 2008, the problem of irregular supply of drugs started hampering the project from 2012.
B. Borooah Cancer Institute, the lone full-fledged cancer institute in the Northeast, has been able to provide only 1,624 cycles of free chemotherapy to patients from January to June this year. A single patient can undergo up to six cycles of chemotherapy.
“Because of the present irregular supply of drugs, doctors at B. Borooah Cancer Institute are apprehensive about whether they would be able to provide 3,000 cycles of chemotherapy to patients by the end of this year,” a source said.
When the scheme was launched in 2008, B. Borooah Cancer Institute could provide 5,284 cycles of chemotherapy within 10 months, followed by 8,149 in 2009, 7,963 in 2010, 8,434 in 2011, 6,402 in 2012 and 6,639 in 2013. The number of patients who could avail of the government’s free cancer treatment went down drastically in 2012 and the slide continued, a doctor at the institute said.
“Cancer patients cannot wait for treatment even for a single day. When the supply of medicines for such diseases is irregular, patients are left with no option but to purchase medicines at a very high cost from the market to get treatment. “Many poor patients cannot afford to buy such costly medicines and opt for whatever cheap treatment is available at our institute. This is a very sad and unfortunate situation. But we cannot help much without the government’s support,” another doctor at the cancer institute said.
Zabbar Ali (name changed), a cancer patient from Hajo in Kamrup district, came to B. Borooah Cancer Institute two months ago hoping to avail of the free treatment. “My hopes were dashed after I was told that drugs for free treatment would not be available immediately. I had to sell a plot of my cultivable land to secure money for the treatment,” Ali said. Similar is the situation in Gauhati Medical College and Hospital, Assam Medical College and Hospital, Dibrugarh and Silchar Medical College and Hospital. Mrinal Dey, the medical superintendent at Silchar Medical College and Hospital, said the hospital does not receive all the medicines for free chemotherapy. “Even though we receive a few important medicines, the supply has become irregular,” he said.
Narayan Upadhyaya, principal in-charge of Assam Medical College and Hospital, Dibrugarh said the last consignment of free drugs was received by his hospital on April 11. “After that we sent a reminder on May 30 to the additional director of health services, lower Assam region, Narengi, Guwahati seeking more drugs. We have not received any reply to the letter,” he said. Sanjeeva Kumar, principal secretary, health and family welfare, who took charge of the department just two months ago, said he would find out what went wrong with the supply of free cancer drugs. “It is a matter of serious concern,” he said.