The much anticipated Tertiary Care Cancer Center (TCCC) has been shelved, while many other projects that promised early diagnosis and treatment for cancers have also fallen back in Kashmir, pushing patients into the last throes of the disease before a medical intervention is made possible.
Two years ago, in February 2019, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) approved the site and plan for TCCC at Kupwara. Replying to a question by Greater Kashmir, AERB had said that the site and layout approval had been issued for telecobalt installation at TCCC Kupwara in January 2018. Approval from the regulatory board is considered the most daunting of tasks given the sensitive nature of the cancer treatment equipment that was planned to be installed at the Center. This milestone achieved, the progress of this TCCC halted completely.
The union health ministry had announced three TCCCs for J&K in 2013, each with Rs 45 crore funding and aimed to strengthen the tertiary care cancer facilities here.
However, a Ministry of Health and Family Welfare announcement made in February 2021 clearly states that currently, no TCCC is approved for J&K, out of the 20 announced for various states.
Not just the TCCC, in 2017, GoI had started three Cancer Day Care Centers, one each in Kupwara, Leh and Kargil. At these centers, a patient could get chemotherapy drugs up to Rs 1 lakh free of cost. These centers also helped the patient have chemotherapy nearer to home and avoid queuing up at over-burdened SKIMS Soura. However, this initiative also fizzled out in 2018. A senior doctor who had helped many patients avail the service said it was "a huge jolt" to cancer treatment in Kashmir.
"Imagine a poor man getting his chemo drugs free of cost. What could have been better than this, given how cancers ruin the financial health of families," he said.
Financial Commissioner Health and Medical Education, Atal Dulloo said the TCCC's could not be taken forward and that State Cancer Institute, coming up at SKIMS Soura was going to address the various requirements that cancer care in Kashmir demands. "We are also augmenting other medical colleges and helping them set up Oncology services," he said.
The terrain and geographical constraints in Kashmir make it difficult for people to move out to other states for treatment and diagnosis. In 2019, 18267 new patients of cancer were registered in J&K as per MoHFW. As per SKIMS Soura's Radiation Oncology expert, Dr Maqbool Lone, who recently retired from service, cancer incidence in Kashmir was rising and was over 75 cases per 100,000 people. The head of Radiation Oncology department at GMC Srinagar, Dr Sanaullah Kuchay said most cancers in Kashmir are diagnosed "very late" often in stages where complete treatment is not possible.