The problem of cancer is one of the biggest health issues across India, but the intensity of the disease is more problematic in the Indian state of Assam. According to Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, “we can safely say that 90,000 new cancer patients were detected in Assam in last five years. If we assume that some people were treated and some died due to the disease, we can safely say that around 60,000 cancer patients are still there.” These are just the reported cases of those who get treatment in the state, but if we take into account the unreported cases and those who move out of the state for treatment, the number goes much higher. During its 15 years in the Assam legislature, the Congress government made no serious efforts to fight the cancer problem despite being aware that the cancer rate in the state is much higher than the rest of the country. To fight cancer, the newly elected BJP government has formed a partnership with Tata Trusts to set up 19 cancer care centers across the state with an investment of Rs 1,910 crore. These cancer care centers will start functioning by mid-2020.
The Assam government and Tata Trusts had formed a non-profitable entity with equal partnership to manage the centers and implement the project. Initially, Tata Trusts will give Rs 830 crores and the state government will put Rs 1080 crore, thereby taking the total initial investment in Assam Cancer Care Foundation (ACCF) to Rs 1,910 crores. The scheme will have three aspects of cancer care service, education, and research – with the objective of shifting care closer to patients’ homes. Himanta Biswa Sarma pointed out that the peripheral expenses are the real problem because the treatment hospitals are limited to big cities. He said “A recent study found that more than 70% of the cost incurred by patients getting treated is due to peripheral expenses such as stay, travel, and food. This was the reason our government initiated the non-profit Assam Cancer Care Foundation (ACCF), a pioneering model for making the treatment of the disease more affordable and address all aspects from awareness to end-of-life care.”
The Memorandum of Understanding for the scheme was signed between Assam government and Tata Trusts in February of this year during the Advantage Assam – Global Investment Summit 2018. Under this scheme, cancer issues will be solved through a three-step solution. The first will be setting up diagnosis and day-care centers without having surgery facilities in the district’s hospitals of Darrang, Goalpara, Golaghat, Haflong, and Sivasagar. The second will be the setting up of facilities for radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery with 150 bedded hospitals in the existing and proposed medical colleges at Barpeta, Jorhat, Silchar, Tezpur, Diphu, Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Lakhimpur, Nagaon, Tinsukia, Karimganj, and Nalbari. The third one will be the setting up of a referral center and to have a separate 200-250 hospital Assam Medical College and Hospital in Dibrugarh.
The government is setting up a South East Asian Cancer Research Centre which will carry out research on the disease in North East as well as neighboring countries. This research center will be set up at Guwahati Medical College & Hospital (GMCH) with an investment of Rs 200 crores of which Rs 180 crores will be provided by the center. The scheme also has ‘Digital Nerve Center’ to connect the cancer care unit of GMCH to two other hospitals of Tata Trusts in Mumbai and Delhi. Sometimes, patients have to be referred to Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata because the doctors in the state do not have enough expertise to treat them. After launching the project, Sarma said “With the launching of this platform, our doctors will be able to discuss cases of patients with those from the Tata hospitals in Mumbai and Kolkata. In many cases, patients will no longer require to travel outside Assam.”
This comprehensive plan to solve the problem of cancer will be implemented in 2020. The people of the state are ailing from cancer for a long time, but the previous governments did take positive steps in this regard. The new government in Assam has taken major steps to reform public healthcare in the state and this is one of them. The cost of cancer treatment under this tie up with Tata Trusts will be cheaper than the Central government’s health scheme, and therefore, people will have access to cheap cancer treatment near their doorstep.