Although there is no official data regarding the number of cancer patients and the types of cancer most prevalent in this country, it is estimated that every year around 1.5 lakh people develop cancer in Bangladesh. More than 1 lakh die from the disease each year. Yet, as experts point out, we are far from having a comprehensive and holistic plan for cancer awareness and treatment. This paper yesterday highlighted how cancer care services in Bangladesh are inadequate. We have no national protocol for treatment, costs are high, cases of wrong diagnosis abound, and there is a shortage of trained doctors, staff, facilities and treatment options.
What this effectively means is that less than a third of all cancer patients can avail themselves of treatment. In total, there are about only 500 beds for cancer patients in public hospitals, and given the costs, only the well-off can access private facilities or go abroad for treatment. That prevention is better than cure holds particularly true for this disease. That as well as early detection, which can drastically improve the likelihood of recovery, are missing. The issues go on; what is important to note is how severely we are underprepared.
It is high time the government prioritised cancer as a major public health issue. Yes, there are some good efforts, such as the plan for establishing one 100-bed hospital for cancer treatment in each of the eight divisions. But this is not nearly enough, especially given the lack of specialised medical training and education. Globally, specialised treatments are being developed but patients in Bangladesh lack access. We need a well-planned policy, taking into account both the immediate and long-term needs of the patients with a cost-control mechanism so that healthcare is accessible to not just the well-off.