Cancer cells multiply faster than the opening of public-sector diagnostic facilities in the cancer belt of Malwa. The wait's killing the poor.
The plans to create the Advanced Cancer Diagnostic, Treatment and Research Institute (ACDTRI), and open the Indian government project on the prevention and control of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and stroke (NPCDCS) in Bathinda to serve poor patients are much behind schedule.
In August 2011, the Punjab government signed a deal with the Hospital Services Consultancy Corporation of India (HSCCI) to build the first public-sector cancer hospital of the district. On October 28, 2011, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal laid the foundation stone of the ACDTRI. No brick has been laid on that since.
The work has been delayed by a few months. "General assembly elections were also a reason for the delay," said Dr HP Yadav, who monitors the project. "We expect to start construction in April." The Punjab Institutes of the Medical Sciences Society and Baba Farid University of Health Sciences (BFUHS), Faridkot, are collaborators in the task. The building worth Rs 30 crore is to be completed within a year from the day the construction is started.
The ACDTRI isn't the only project running slow. The Punjab health department has failed to set any deadline for commissioning the NPCDCS project at the Bathinda Civil Hospital. "As early as possible," said Dr Deepak Bhatia, when asked about the completion deadline. He is the state nodal officer of the integrated disease surveillance programme (IDSP).
"Various departments of the state and Central governments are involved in the construction of the NPCDCS centres in Bathinda and Mansa," said Dr Bhatia. "I will come to Bathinda next week to check the pace of the work." The commissioning of the ACDTRI and NPCDCS projects on schedule can save many poor lives for whom treatment at private medical institutions is too expensive.
The NPCDCS will help doctors detect cancer at a very early stage, while the ACDTRI will be capable of treating the disease at any stage. Both projects are in the public sector, so that the cost to the poor is minimum. The pace of the projects, however, does not suggest the poor will have relief in time.
The idea of setting up the institutes has already come a decade late. "Speed is critical," said MM Behal, convener of joint action committee against fly ash. "Delay will kill many people." Behal wants public vigil on the projects, for he fears that people running private institutes will try to block these works.