While cancer treatment receives generous funding, prevention efforts, which are by far cheaper, do not receive funding. This despite the fact that the world over only about 20 to 25 per cent of all those who decide to quit tobacco manage to do so.
The Tobacco Cessation Centres (TCC), which were established a decade ago with the support of the World Health Organisation and Union Health Ministry, do not receive WHO and government funding anymore. Many more would quit the habit if the government made the necessary effort, say oncologists and tobacco cessation counsellors.
The TCCs were launched with the aim of counselling tobacco users on the benefits of quitting and provide professional counselling, says C.S. Mani, oncologist and director, Madras Cancer Care Foundation.
Pharmacological intervention for nicotine replacements and anti-depressants are given to counter severe withdrawal symptoms, he adds. Most people want to quit “especially if doctors probe into their problem and offer such help,” he says.
Awareness levels about the ill effects of tobacco are still low and with no financial support for preventive work, cessation programmes are not doing well, says E. Vidhubala, assistant professor, Cancer Institute.
“The government is willing to spend on cancer treatment but not on preventing it,” says R. Rajaraman, head of surgical oncology, Government Royapettah Hospital. Even if the ban on tobacco use becomes effective, “the fruits will be reaped only after 10 years,” he says.
Given that the patients are poor and illiterate, the government must take up prevention as the priority, surgeons say.
“Most of the patients are tolerant to the disease because they are not being able to afford even one meal a day. Unless it is painful, they will not come to the hospital,” Dr. Rajaraman says.
At health camps, doctors say they see only those who have already been treated or those who come for a follow up. “We never see patients who are in the early stages, when the treatment will help,” the surgeon says.
“A public health message through television and radio will reach the grassroots and bring about more awareness,” Dr. Rajaraman says.