Silent sufferers: Lack of transport facilities hurting cancer patients in Tamil Nadu

More susceptible to infection due to low immunity, patients unable to get timely treatment  

Published: 22nd May 2020 06:55 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd May 2020 02:30 PM   |  A+A-

Koyambedu Mofussil Bus Terminus getting ready to resume services on Thursday in Chennai. (Photo | P Jawahar/EPS)

Express News Service

TIRUCHY: Treating cancer is as complicated and challenging as treating COVID-19. Timely chemotherapy and radiation sessions are crucial to effectively beating the disease. Treatments
for cancer have been classified as an emergency, and there are no restrictions for hospitals
offering these services. However, thanks to the lack of transportation facilities, most patients are unable to get treatment on time.  

“We have not delayed any chemotherapy or radiation sessions. We have only put on hold elective surgeries. We have just spaced out the patients coming for follow-up treatments. Still, there’s a 50 per cent dip in patients coming here because of lack of public transport,” says doctor G Govindaraj, surgical oncologist at Harshamitra Super Speciality Cancer Centre in Tiruchy.

Now, with restrictions easing in other districts, treatments are likely to be administered on time. However, the situation will continue to be of concern in cities such as Chennai, where public transport may not be restarted in the near future. Every hospital is ensuring doctors, nurses and staff are wearing PPEs and following safety protocol while treating patients, says Govindaraj.

In Chennai, however, there were instances when cancer patients under treatment contracted COVID-19, and two of them subsequently died. “We do not know which patient has the virus. We work towards lowering the risk. During radiation, we ensure healthcare workers are wearing PPEs, as contact is high,” says doctor B Anis, consultant surgical oncologist at Kauvery Hospital in Tiruchy.

Doctors are equally worried about chemotherapy.

“The process reduces immunity levels of patients, and make them further prone to infection,” says Anis.

Another challenge is finding out COVID-19 symptoms in cancer patients, because post-chemotherapy patients exhibit similar symptoms.

“We are facing a dilemma during diagnosis,” says doctor K Govindaraj, Director of Dr G Viswanathan Speciality Hospitals, “as the symptoms mimic each other. It is becoming difficult for physicians. In both cases, patients tend to have  diarrhoea, cough and fever.”

Doctors say they are trying to avoid surgeries as much as possible. If absolutely essential, patients are screened first for COVID-19.  

“We are leaning towards effective alternative therapy for complex surgeries. For major oral and cervical cancers, surgery is most effective. We try to give radiation first in such cases, so we can do the surgery later,” says Anis.

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