BENGALURU: A decrepit building housing the Department of Radiotherapy in the Victoria Hospital campus bears this piece of information at its entrance, ‘Cobalt 60 Teletherapy Unit - Gift of Canadian Government, opened by Lal Bahadur Shastri, Prime Minister of India on January 23, 1965.’
Five decades later, when technological advances in cancer care are manifold, government-run Victoria Hospital lags way behind. As a result, patients continue to suffer from the side effects of Cobalt-60 radiotherapy.
While the hospital is trying to update its equipment, it faces fund crunch. The hospital is now forced to look for private sponsors to fund equipment worth `21.5 crore, which the state is unable to do so due to various reasons.
Jawaid Akhtar, Principal Secretary to the Medical Education Minister, said, “There is an action plan in the budget that we need to follow. We are already setting up six new hospitals according to this plan. We try to get the best facilities for our hospitals. It is not uncommon for government hospitals to look for private funding, even Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research has private sponsors. We did not know that Victoria Hospital was looking for private sponsors. We will look into this matter.”
Cobalt-60 radiotherapy uses gamma rays from the radioisotope cobalt-60 to treat cancer. It has sub-acute to long-term side effects, like fatigue, difficulty in eating. Over the years, this method of treatment has been replaced with linear accelerators or LINAC, which are said to be more focussed in treatment. LINAC does not burn healthy tissue along with cancer cells and is found to be more effective in treating deep-seated tumours. A single device costs at least `15 crore.
Dr Amrut Kadam, assistant professor, radiotherapy, Victoria Hospital, said, “We’ll need `21.5 crore to buy a linear accelerator, a simulator, a CT scan simulator, and mould room and immobilisation equipment. We have already approached a public bank but without the AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) approval, they can’t commit. The AERB approval should come in a month.” The hospital is approaching corporates, NGOs or individual sponsors for the funding.
Under the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke, 20 state cancer institutes (SCI) will be set up in 20 states along with 50 tertiary care cancer centers (TCCC). The maximum permissible assistance for an SCI is `120 crore and for TCCC it’s `45 crore. This is inclusive of state share of 25%.
“We will be applying for the scheme’s assistance but the money will not be enough to cover all the requirements. Just procuring two LINACs would cost around `30 crore. We would need funding for IMRT too,” said Kadam.
So why doesn’t the Medical Education Department with a budget of `1,614 crore not provide funding for the new equipment for the hospital? It is because the Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology is being upgraded into a State Cancer Institute. As a result, Kidwai will get four new LINACs. Kalaburagi peripheral cancer care centre is also being upgraded in the second phase at an estimated cost of `50 crore. A similar facility is also being planned in Hassan. A doctor at Victoria Hospital said, “With this expenditure, the state will not fund Victoria.”