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COVID-19 compounds misery of cancer patients in Odisha’s Bargarh district

The Acharya Harihar centre in Cuttack was shut on detection of COVID cases.

The Acharya Harihar centre in Cuttack was shut on detection of COVID cases.  

Battling with cancer is a struggle for its victims and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has tilted the scale further, making it far tougher to deal with it.

Perhaps nobody understands it better than Pratap Dash, a cancer survivor, in Odisha’s Bargarh district. Diagnosed with oral cancer in 2016, he was operated upon at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai. Since then Mr. Dash has had to spend much of his earnings from renting out marquees on his treatment. However, the expense has become almost impossible for him after the pandemic-induced lockdown.

“Since March-end, I am yet to receive a single order as social functions have come to a halt due to lockdown. My earnings are almost nil. After the surgery in 2016, my follow-up treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy have been going on in Cuttack. I have already skipped my treatment scheduled for the first week of July. I don’t know if I will survive this,” said Mr. Dash, on a note of hopelessness.

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While cancer patients all over the State are feeling the impact of the lockdown, the effect has been more visible in Bargarh district, dubbed the cancer capital of Odisha. Despite the high incidence of cancer in the district, no focused study has been conducted so far and residents have held several protests demanding better cancer care in the western Odisha district. In 2017, Subal Sahoo, MLA from Bijepur in Bargarh, died of cancer. Subash Chouhan, Chairman of Western Odisha Development Council, a leader from Bargarh, succumbed to the disease in May this year.

Said to be the rice bowl of Odisha, Bargarh has seen a growing cancer cluster probably due to the overuse of pesticides and fertilisers for the paddy crop, though there has been no focused study as yet. Many patients from lower income groups in the district have been diagnosed with different types of cancers though oral and breast cancers are the most common.

While Mr. Dash is worried about arranging funds for his cancer treatment, Mr. Prasanna Mishra, a veteran journalist of Bargarh district, is desperate for consultation about his daily medication for leukemia.

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His desperate calls to Tata Memorial Hospital have gone unanswered and two top government cancer care institutes in Odisha are affected by COVID-19 infection and have shut down their out patient departments (OPDs).

The OPDs of Acharya Harihar Post Graduate Institute of Cancer (AHPGIC), Cuttack – eastern India’s leading cancer hospital – and AIIMS-Bhubaneswar shut down recently after detection of 150 COVID-19 cases from there.

“The tablet which is a lifeline for me, is not available in Bargarh. The cost of the medicine here is thrice the price as in Mumbai. But it is difficult for me to arrange to get the drug,” said Mr. Mishra.

Like him, Ms. Minati Pati, a senior State government official and a cancer survivor, is worried about availability of oncologists.

“No one can know the pain that the cancer patients undergo. They need regular check-ups and comforting words from doctors which would help provide temporary relief,” said Ms. Pati, District Treasury Officer of Bargarh.

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“A few private hospitals in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack have been charging huge fees which we cannot afford,” said Mr. Dash.

Fighters’ Group, a forum of cancer survivors, rued that the Odisha government had failed to even start construction despite Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announcing the setting up of a dedicated cancer hospital at Bargarh in 2019.

Aswini Darjee, a cancer survivor and founder of the Fighters Group, said cancer patients of Bargarh can neither go to Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai nor can they go to AHPGIC due to the lockdown.

“Many hospitals are affected by COVID-19 infections. Ever since the virus outbreak, train services have been hit which has affected cancer patients who are deprived of regular follow-ups. Cancer patients cannot afford travelling distance by hiring own vehicles. This is situation no one wants to be in,” said Mr. Darjee.

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Printable version | Aug 7, 2020 2:10:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/covid-19-compounds-misery-of-bargarhs-cancer-patients-in-odisha/article32052430.ece

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