The suspension of passenger train services as part of the ongoing countrywide lockdown has left several cancer patients from Punjab’s Malwa region struggling to reach Bikaner in Rajasthan for their treatment. The poor patients, who boarded the Jodhpur passenger train — known locally as the ‘cancer train’ — from Punjab’s Bathinda to travel to the more affordable Acharya Tulsi Regional Cancer Treatment and Research Centre (RCC) across the State border, have now been left with little option but to look for local treatment options.
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Gurpreet Singh, president of an NGO ‘Bhai Ghanayia Cancer Roko Sewa Society’, said patients who used to travel to Bikaner were now forced to take treatment at local hospitals in Faridkot, Bathinda or Sangrur. “Not only those travelling to Bikaner but also other patients, who don’t have personal vehicles or can’t afford to hire a conveyance are finding it difficult to reach hospitals within the State itself. In the absence of public transport, the poor are suffering the most. Earlier, most poor patients used to travel on State transport buses or trains to reach their destinations for treatment but now many can’t,” he said.
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Observing that under the Mukhyamantri Cancer Rahat Kosh (Chief Minister’s Cancer Relief Fund) the Punjab government did provide up to ₹1.5 lakh for diagnosis, treatment and medicines for a cancer patient, Mr. Singh said the amount needed to be increased as it was sorely inadequate compared with the cost of treatment.
Surinder Duggal, President of the Punjab Chemists Association, said his helpline number had received several calls from cancer patients including from Bathinda, Faridkot snd Muktsar disticts over the past few days asking about treatment options as they couldn’t travel to Bikaner.
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“Most of them had their chemotherapy sessions due and wanted to know where they can get it done within the State as they can’t travel to Bikaner,” he said.
Pardeep Garg, head, cancer department of Guru Gobind Singh Medical College and Hospital in Faridkot, said that apart from regular patients of the hospital, other patients from nearby areas who used to visit Chandigarh, Khanna, Ludhiana or Bikaner for chemotherapy and radiation therapy were now being provided treatment at the hospital. “Even otherwise, relatively fewer patients from the Malwa region nowadays go to the cancer facility at Bikaner as the medical facilities in Punjab have increased over the years,” asserted Dr. Garg.
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Ashok Kumar Goyal, who runs Sanjeevani Foundation, an NGO working in the health sector, said as the lockdown continues many patients were now seeking treatment at the Advanced Cancer Institute in Bathinda or travelling to Faridkot. “Government needs to invest much more in health sector. If there are more doctors in hospitals, better infrastructure and cheap services then patients will not go neighbouring States for treatment,” said Dr. Goyal.
Over the years the ‘cancer train’ has come to symbolise the adverse impact of the green revolution on public health in Punjab as agriculture and environment experts have pointed to the increase in ailments that are linked to the indiscriminate use of agrochemicals in farming, with cancer being only one of them.