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Clueless: Punjab’s cancer data patchy, no proper record of patient deaths

In reply to RTI query, health dept says it doesn’t know total number of patients afflicted with the disease.

punjab Updated: Mar 30, 2018 09:58 IST
Avtar singh
Avtar singh
Hindustan Times, Sangrur
Patients and their relatives awaiting their turn outside the Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital in Sangrur.  Of 22 districts, only Moga, Bathinda and Fazilka have kept a record of the number of deaths.
Patients and their relatives awaiting their turn outside the Homi Bhabha Cancer Hospital in Sangrur. Of 22 districts, only Moga, Bathinda and Fazilka have kept a record of the number of deaths. (HT File )

Six months after the Punjab department of health and family welfare decided to cover all cancer patients up to 18 years of age under its cashless treatment scheme, its reply to a Right to Information (RTI) petition shows that it does not know the total number of patients afflicted with the deadly disease. The government’s reply also reveals that it has not kept any concrete record of deaths of patients due to cancer. This means that when the state machinery makes policies to fight the disease, it is, essentially, fighting in the dark.

Cancer registry set up in 2011 not of much help
  • Health department officials said that a registry of cancer patients and research on the disease was started at Government Medical College, Patiala, in 2011. The department also collects data from the MMPCRKS.

What was the info sought

The RTI query to the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases & Stroke (NPCDCS), Punjab, and the health department, had asked the following questions for 2012-2017. The first was the total number of cancer cases in Punjab and the types of cancer with maximum prevalence in men and women, in different years. Information was also sought on the number of cancer deaths in the state.

The reply

In its response to the RTI plea, that the applicant — this correspondent — received till March 26, the state government said consolidated information on the number of deaths due to cancer was not available. It only gave the number of patients registered under the Mukh Mantri Punjab Cancer Raahat Kosh Scheme (MMPCRKS). It did not even give the breakup of the prevalence of the disease among men and women. Of 22 districts, only three — Moga, Bathinda, Fazilka — have kept a record of the number of deaths.

In Moga, of 1,908 patients, 1,327 had died. Bathinda has seen 500 deaths of 1,673 patients and in Fazilka, there were 596 deaths of 1,256 patients. In Moga, Bathinda, Fazilka, Pathankot, Muktsar and Fatehgarh Sahib, women primarily report with breast cancer. Men usually report types of cancer like oesophagus, mouth, lung, prostate and brain.

“We are trying to compile details from patients and about the disease as well. It will take time to cover all districts of the state and get reliable facts.” — Dr GB Singh, state program officer, national programme for cancer control

Under the MMPCRKS, patients who apply for government help are treated at hospitals, with the government paying Rs 1.5 lakh a year for treatment. The government shared the data under this scheme, for patients whose treatment it had funded from 2012-2017. The total number of these patients is 44,991, the RTI reply says, giving the breakup for each year as well.

“Data collection is a tough task. We are trying to compile details from patients and about the disease as well. We have compiled some data, but it will take time to cover all districts of the state and get reliable facts,” said Dr GB Singh, state program officer, NPCDCS.

‘How will the state plan’

“There is no data of total patients. The department does not maintain any record of deaths. How can officials make policies to control the disease? It should be mandatory to maintain the record of number of deaths every year due to cancer,” said Dr Pyare Lal Garg, an activist.

Incidentally, this lack of information has come to light at a time, the state government has started a pilot project for vaccination against cervical cancer in women.