2 Odisha cancer care hospitals shut over Covid exposure, patients in limbo
While the pandemic and the subsequent shutdown of hospitals have been distressing for cancer patients all over the state, it has been more distressing for people of Bargarh district, considered as cancer capital of Odisha.Updated: Jul 10, 2020 22:46 IST
The Covid pandemic has disrupted the spectrum of cancer care in Odisha as the out patient department of the state’s only government-owned cancer care hospital at Cuttack remains shut for over a week following detection of 100-odd Covid cases there over last week.
Acharya Harihar Regional Cancer Centre (AHRCC) at Cuttack is eastern India’s biggest cancer hospital where at least 300-350 cancer patients come for treatment, surgery and palliative care everyday. As the only tertiary cancer hospital of Odisha, it is the lifeline for patients who can’t travel to Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai or access the relatively expensive private hospitals in Bhubaneswar. Adding to the troubles, is the shutting down of OPD of AIIMS, Bhubaneswar, which is the second government health institution with an advanced cancer care facility in Odisha after AHRCC.
But with more than 100 patients and staff of the regional cancer centre getting infected by coronavirus over the week after a Covid-19 patient’s admission to the hospital, the administration first sealed the emergency ward a week ago and finally stopped the OPD services leaving hundreds of cancer patients in the lurch. The AIIMS shut down its OPD from today after 96 patients, doctors and other paramedical staff were found Covid positive in less than a fortnight dealing a blow to thousands of cancer patients.
“As it is they are in the biggest risk category due to low immunity. Now due to lockdown and shutdown of cancer hospitals they are forced to delay their treatment. They are caught between the devil and the deep sea. Everyone knows cancer treatment is highly expensive and slight delay in treatment can worsen things. Since the lockdown started, we have been getting frantic calls from family members of cancer patients across the state to help them financially as well as for treatment,” said Bhubaneswar-based cancer survivor Swagatika Acharya, who runs an NGO called AwAAKen for cancer patients in Odisha.
While the pandemic and the subsequent shutdown of hospitals have been distressing for cancer patients all over the state, it has been more distressing for people of Bargarh district, considered as cancer capital of Odisha. Last month, Subash Chouhan, senior BJD leader from Bargarh, passed away in Bhubaneswar after battling with cancer.
Basant Sahu, a 72-year-old mouth cancer patient of Bargarh district was planning to visit the cancer centre next week when he heard about the shutdown of the hospital. Sahu, who was earlier diagnosed with stomach cancer eight years ago, had just about managed to recover when the doctors at the cancer centre diagnosed him with mouth cancer. “For me travelling to Mumbai is out of question as I can’t afford the travel cost. I was planning to come to the cancer hospital at Cuttack when I heard about closure of its OPD service. This is a big setback for poor patients like me,” said Sahu.
Like Sahu, Md Atik, a 46-year-old mouth cancer patient of Bargarh district, was diagnosed with cancer in his oral cavity in 2018. A BPL cardholder, Atik did not treat his cancer for almost one and half year till it worsened, impairing his speech. With help of friends like Aswini Darjee, Atik was planning to go for consultation early this week when the hospital was shut down. “It’s becoming painful for me. I thought I would somehow travel to Cuttack and consult the doctors at the cancer centre. I don’t know if I can bear the pain till the hospital opens,” said Atik.
Like him, 44-year-old Puspanjali Behera was planning to visit AHRCC for consultation. It has been a case of double blow for Behera who lost her husband to blood cancer and then was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago. “During lockdown, I was planning to go to Tata Memorial hospital at Mumbai when I was told that they are not allowing outside patients due to pandemic. My next option was AHRCC. But now that too is shut,” said Behera.
There have been others like a 45-year-old oral cancer patient from Balasore district, who could not get palliative treatment at the cancer centre of Cuttack due to its closure. “The man is in 4th stage and his chances of survival are very grim. He can’t wait for the hospital to open. As the AHRCC was shut, we could somehow manage to get him consulted at the AIIMS Bhubaneswar after much persuasion. There are several patients who are on the verge of death due to shutting down of AHRCC,” said Acharya.
Odisha on an average sees around 50,000 cases a year, a large portion of whom come to AHRCC and AIIMS Bhubaneswar. A few others get treated at private hospitals. “But treatment of cancer at private hospitals is costly. The importance of a government hospital is felt more at the time of pandemic,” said Aswini Kumar Darjee, who has started a group called Fighters Group of Cancer Survivors.
Soumya Surath Panda, an oncologist working in a city hospital, said pandemic has made it difficult for doctors like him. “It has been an overwhelming situation. Despite the best precautions, doctors are at as much risk as the patients. Besides, we have to be doubly careful as all cancer patients have low immunity particularly those undergoing chemotherapy,” said Panda.
Meanwhile, officials at the AHRCC said they are trying to sanitise the building before opening it for patients. “The old building had been cleaned and sanitized. We are fumigating the OT fumigation. We plan to start Radiotherapy from July 14,” said director of AHRCC, Lalatendu Sarangi.