A severe shortage of staff has crippled the national project for the prevention and control of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and stroke (NPCDCS) in Punjab.
The state health department is almost ready with infrastructure at the proposed NPCDCS centres in Bathinda, Mansa, Gurdaspur, and Hoshiarpur, but specialist doctors and support teams aren't hired yet.
The proposed centres are for detecting four major diseases at the earliest stages. All components of the programme will work in Bathinda and Hoshiarpur. Only cancer will be treated at Mansa, and only diabetes and cardiovascular diseases cured at Gurdaspur.
"We have opened the Bathinda centre with cancer specialists," said district health officer Dr HS Randhawa. "We await other appointments."
At Bathinda, three of the four posts of specialist doctors are vacant. Only cancer specialist Dr Vandhna Middha has moved in, and even her department requires more specialists. "Specialist doctors are offered between Rs 50,000 and Rs 60,000 for the job," said Dr Randhawa. "The money seems inadequate to many."
Bathinda isn't only district short of specialist doctors. Half the posts are vacant across the state. "The state will have to make repeated efforts to recruit doctors," said Dr Deepak Bhatia, state nodal officer of the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP)."
"We are ready with the best infrastructure," said Dr Bhatia. "The appointment of the first cancer specialist at Bathinda is a big relief to patients. We plan to get them drugs free of cost. However, we still need cancer specialists at Mansa, where the disease has great impact."
"Except radiotherapy, every cancer treatment available at Bikaner, Rajasthan now is available in Bathinda," said Dr Middha, centre's first cancer specialist. "Patients no longer have to visit Bikaner repeatedly only to get regular chemotherapy."