Azad assures relief to state

Voicing concern about rising incidents of cancer in the entire southern region of Punjab during the Zero Hour, nominated member HK Dua requested Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to take steps for setting up “a big cancer hospital” there so that patients do not have to travel all the way from Abohar to Bikaner for treatment.

Recounting the plight of patients who travel on the Train No. 339 every night from Abohar to Bikaner, the former Editor of The Tribune said the train had acquired the dubious distinction of “cancer train” because nearly 100 cancer patients travel by it from Punjab for diagnosis and treatment at the Acharya Tulsi Regional Cancer Treatment and Research Institute, Bikaner.

According to official figures, 2,875 cancer cases have been diagnosed in Bhatinda and 929 in Hoshiarpur.

Bhatinda showed a prevalence of 75 cases per lakh population whereas Hoshiarpur showed a prevalence of 46.47 per lakh population, the Health Minister told the Rajya Sabha yesterday after the issue was raised during the Question Hour. Apprising the House about a special programme under which Rs 100 crore would be spent for treatment of cancer patients in 100 districts, Azad also said that the government had released funds for development of Oncology wing in medical colleges in Faridkot, Amritsar and Patiala in Punjab to supplement the efforts to fight the disease.

“We have started a pilot project in 100 districts in which Rs 1 crore would be spent on chemotherapy in each district and it will cover a population of 15-20 crore,” Azad said, terming the effort a part of the recently-launched National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke (NPCDCS).

The new programme envisages providing diagnostic services, basic surgery, chemotherapy and palliative care to cancer patients at 100 districts across 21 states during 2010-11 and 2011-12, Azad said, replying to the query on increased number of cancer patients in Bhatinda and Hoshiarpur districts.

The Health Minister said a high-level team comprising experts from the Indian Council of Medical Research and other reputed institutes had visited the region to look into the matter in September 2010 and recommended that a regional cancer centre be set up there along with a molecular genetics laboratory.

Some preliminary research has been carried out about the prevalence of widespread cancer in Southern Punjab, which is rich in agriculture, particularly, in growing cotton for the rest of the country. Research tends to suggest that pesticides and fertilizers that are being widely used and the consequent pollution of the water is leading to cancer in Southern Punjab.

– Tribune, March 10th, 2011