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Country’s cancer control programmes in disarray

National Cancer Control Committee (NCCC), the country’s apex body to formulate policy for prevention and control of cancer, has not been functioning for years, though the numbers of patients and deaths from the disease are increasing day by day.

Apart from this, the National Cancer Control Strategy and Plan of Action 2009-2015 has not yet been implemented during the time.

The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) sources said it didn’t take initiative for long either to revive the NCCC or to update its strategy and plan.

This situation has left the country’s cancer prevention, control and treatment programmes in total disarray, said the sources.

“I do not know about the activities of any National Cancer Control Committee in the country,” Prof Dr Robed Amin, line director (NCDC) of the DGHS, told that.

The health ministry sources said the National Cancer Control Committee (NCCC) was formed before the year 2000 and it was also reconstituted in 2016 to carry out a set of activities including approving combined cancer control programme and formulating policy in this regard.

At last, the NCCC was reconstituted in 2016 but it remains dysfunctional still as no activity of the council was visible since its formation, the sources added.

Prime Minister was the chief patron of the 22-member council while the health and family welfare minister was chairman and director of the National Institute of Cancer Research & Hospital (NICRH) was member secretary of the council.

The area of activities of the NCCC included giving suggestions to the government about the expansion of planned cancer control activities and approving combined cancer control programme.

 “With the instruction of the director of National Institute of Cancer Research & Hospital (NICR&H), we have planned recently to carry out a study in a bid to revive the NCCC,” Dr. Habibullah Talukder Raskin, epidemiologist of the NICR&H told that.

Describing the necessity of the NCCC, Habibullah Talukder further said if the council is revived, it will be helpful for the government to make policy and implementation of programmes regarding cancer control and prevention.

The health experts said it is essential to make the NCCC very functional in a bid to make programmes and implementation to prevent and control cancer disease and to ensure proper treatment for the existing cancer patients immediately.

Meanwhile, the cancer patients have been suffering due to a lack of adequate cancer treatment facilities in Bangladesh but there is no National Cancer Control Strategy and Action Plan in the country currently.

At the same time, the exact situation of the cancer disease in Bangladesh is still unknown as there is no exact national data about the cancer patients due to the lack of a cancer registry system in the country.

“There is no national cancer registry data in the country. We’ll start this process this year. Initially, we’ll start it in some hospitals and expand it later,” said Prof Dr. Robed Amin.

About the National Cancer Control Strategy and Plan of Action 2009-2015, he said it didn’t work as per expectation. “We will carry out impact review on it and then will update the plan of action,” he added.

Talking to the Prof Dr Swapan Kumar Bandyopadhyaa, director of the NCIR&H said, “It is a big crisis for our country is that we have no central database on the cancer patients and disease.”

“If we can collect accurate data through the digital data entry process, it will help us to ensure proper treatment of the patients, to recruit necessary manpower including doctors and nurses and arrange necessary other facilities to this needed,” he added.

Epidemiologist Dr Habibullah Talukder Raskin, also an associate professor of NICR&H, said if a population-based cancer registry is started, the infection rate and mortality rate can be identified easily.

“We need to start national cancer screening and national cancer registry services in the country immediately in a bid to take exact plan to prevent and ensure proper treatment for the cancer patients of the country and to reduce the mortality rate,” he added.

Outside the NICR&H, among 36 government medical college hospitals in the country, only 14 of them have oncology departments which are also undermanned and under-equipped. And there are only around 25 medical oncologists and around 30 surgical oncologists in the entire country.

The public health experts said a constructive plan is needed to increase the cancer treatment facilities and to take effective programmes for prevention and control.

Health minister Zahid Maleque recently said, “There are now around 20 lakh cancer patients in Bangladesh while around 1 to 1.5 lakh new cancer patients are being added every year. And around one lakh cancer patients die annually, which means that 273 cancer patients die daily in the country.”

He said the government is setting up 15-storey high quality modern hospitals with treatment facilities for cancer, kidney and liver diseases in the eight divisional cities.