For poor cancer patients in the Capital, the ray of hope for cure seems to be fading. The brachytherapy (internal radiotherapy) machines at Lok Nayak Hospital (LNH) and Safdarjung have not been in use for years. The one at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) stopped working last week.
Since these are the only few government hospitals with this facility, there is no other place where poor patients can go for treatment.
Brachytherapy is a specialised radiation therapy used for cancer like that of the cervix and uterus, where high dose localised radiation is required. While private hospitals charge between R30,000-R40,000 for the brachytherapy package, Government hospitals do it for free.
“The radioactive source had depleted. But we have replaced it. Ours is the only government set-up which has been doing brachytherapy. All other units are in shambles,” said Dr GK Rath, head, cancer research institute at AIIMS.
“For about 10 days we had to turn away patients. The problem is, if our machines break down, we can’t even send them anywhere as no other units are functioning,” said an oncologist on condition of anonymity. Every week, at least 60 patients receive brachytherapy at AIIMS.
Fareeda Bano, who had come to LNH after being turned away from AIIMS, said, “I went to AIIMS first. They said their machine was not working so somebody asked us to come here but here, too, they said that the machine is broken.”
Her sister Rahat Bano, a cervical cancer patient, cannot afford to go to a private hospital. “We don’t know what to do,” said a visibly tired Fareeda as she ran from one hospital to another, without any hope for treatment. “If brachytherapy is not given within a stipulated period of time, chances of cure reduce sharply even as those of recurrence go up,” said an oncologist at AIIMS.
At Lok Nayak, the machines have been lying broken for over two years.
According to sources, after an inspection by company technicians on January 28, a list of new spare parts to start the machine was prepared and sent to the administration by February 10. But till now, no order has been placed.
“Getting the cancer unit working is topmost on our priority. We are looking at a two-month deadline,” said an official.
Safdarjung Hospital, too, has the same story to narrate. “We do not have radio safety officers. Till we don’t get one for each machine, we can’t get the unit started,” said an oncologist. Candidates for the two vacant posts were selected eight months ago, but till now they have not received appointment letters.