The hospice. Picture by Ali Fauz Hassan
Guwahati, Sept. 22: Assam's only exclusive and free managed to attract only 15 patients since its opening last year - a reminder that palliative care as a mode of treatment is yet to catch on in the Northeast.
The hospice authority, Deepsikha Foundation, is trying to set the situation right by reaching out to the government, NGOs, hospitals and patients, among others, in the region.
The hospice, inaugurated near Mirza on January 7 last year by Deepsikha Foundation, is one-of-its-kind in the Northeast, offering palliative care.
The facilities offered include pain and symptom control, spiritual care, home and in-patient care, respite care, family conferences and bereavement care.
At present, it has only one patient, against its capacity for 25, in a country where nearly 10 lakh cancer cases are detected each year and more than seven lakh die from the disease.
The high rate of mortality is attributed to late diagnosis, with most cases detected in the third or final stage when the life span is drastically reduced. The high cost of treatment adds to the problems.
The founder chairman of the foundation, Devashish Sharma, told The Telegraph, "The Northeast has the maximum numbers of head and neck cancers in the country. Many terminal cancer patients are sent back home by cancer hospitals where they suffer from excruciating pain due to lack of medicines like morphine in small towns. These patients should head to the hospice where they will be given medicines, care and counselling free of charge."
The assistant resident commissioner of Assam Bhavan, Mumbai, Sharma went on to add: "Counselling is important for both the relatives and caregivers of the patient to avoid burnout. The government, NGOs, hospitals should create awareness about palliative care and also refer patients to hospices like ours. We are also trying to reach out to them. Let us help them say goodbye to the world with dignity and without pain. There should be dignity in death. Our primary focus is on adding life to their years than adding years to their life."
The foundation is a non-profit voluntary organisation trying to add meaning to the lives of cancer patients. It is engaged in organising cancer awareness and screening camps in the rural areas of the region, anti-tobacco and anti-cancer advocacy, psychological support and counselling to cancer patients and their families and providing back-up support and accommodation facilities to patients undergoing treatment at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai.
Free accommodation for 200 people, transportation to and from the hospital, meals at Rs 10 per person, ambulance facilities and services for the dead are activities carried out by the foundation in Mumbai.
According to Sharma, the primary focus of the state government and other organisations should be on educating people about the hazards of tobacco and betelnut abuse in all forms.
Prevention is the key to this menace and adequate facilities for early detection of cancer is the need of the hour.
"Most of the cancer cases in Assam and the region are detected very late, resulting in a high mortality rate. A major percentage of oral cancers in our state can be cured if people are aware of the early symptoms and visit a doctor immediately. Symptoms like a white or red patch inside the mouth or on the tongue and difficulty in opening the mouth point towards onset of cancer," said Sharma.
Kamrup (metro) district in Assam has the fourth highest rate of cancer incidence among men in the country, with 206 affected in a population of 1,00,000. Assam registers over 30,000 new cancer cases annually.