Cancer patients have been hit hard by the closing of the radiotherapy unit at Safdarjung Hospital since November 18. Although the problem is limited to one hospital, it highlights the severe shortage of cancer treatment facilities in the city and the country .
Every year, India sees 11 lakh new cancer cases and five lakh cancer deaths due to delayed diagnosis or lack of treatment. The country requires at least 1,200 radiotherapy units but has only 600.
Delhi has about a dozen radiotherapy units, of which four are in government-run hospitals–AIIMS, Safdarjung, Lok Nayak and Delhi State Cancer Institute (DSCI). As for the high-technology corporate centres, they are unaffordable for the common public, say experts.
At AIIMS, officials said, there is a two-month waiting period for radiotherapy . Safdarjung anyway took fewer patients because only one of its three machines was functional. “Now, all radiotherapy services have been closed for new patients as the radiation safety licence of the facility was not renewed.“
Safdarjung Hospital, sources said, does not have a simulator or treatment planning system (TPS) for precise administration of dosage and has been using cobalt 60 machines for radiotherapy services when most hospitals have switched to newer technologies such as linear accelerators.
“Radiotherapy is the mainstay of cancer treatment for nearly 50%-60% of the patients. It is used both for cure and palliative care,“ said Dr Kishore Singh, director, radiotherapy services at Lok Nayak Hospital. He added that the Delhi government is in the process of buying a linear accelerator. “We give radiotherapy to around 65 patients daily . Once the new machine comes, we can treat more patients.“
Speaking to TOI, a senior official in the health mini stry said the government is working to augment radiotherapy services. “Tenders have been issued to buy a linear accelerator for Safdarjung. All new AIIMS-like institutions have been given additional funds to set up radiotherapy units and we are also supporting the regional centres in creating more such facilities.“
Oncologists say that infrastructure for cancer treatment needs to be scaled up rapidly . “In 1977, when I worked at Lok Nayak Hospital, it had one cobalt 60 machine.That hasn’t changed in 38 years although the number of patients has multiplied,“ said an expert.
Source: Times of India 25 Nov’2015