MARCH 1, 2019
Following his ascension to the post of Prime Minister (PM), Imran Khan visited Quetta and announced that he would build a cancer hospital there for the people of Balochistan.
Cancer has ravaged many lives in Balochistan. According to reports, there were 10,924 cancer patients in Quetta from 1998 to 2009. From 2014 to 2017, 10,000 cases were reported in the city, most of which were cases of women with breast cancer.
Currently, most of Balochistan’s cancer patients visit Karachi for treatment because it is the nearest city with the kind of medical facilities they require. However, no statistics are available as to exactly how many people from Balochistan are treated for cancer in Karachi every year.
As a result of socioeconomic problems, many cases go unreported. However, the Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Medical University states that 40,000 women die in Pakistan every year because of breast cancer, whereas 90,000 women are diagnosed too late. This means out every eight Pakistani women, one falls prey to breast cancer. Those living in far-flung areas in underdeveloped provinces like Balochistan are the most vulnerable.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that 10 million deaths occurred throughout the globe in 2018 as a result of cancer. 70 percent of these cases occurred in developing countries. 118,000 cases of breast, oral and lung cancer were reported from Pakistan — where the occurrence of cancer is particularly high. The issue went viral on social and electronic media when Rehan Rind — a 20 years-old student from Khuzdar University — passed away as a result of cancer in September 2016. This resulted in some young social media activists demanding a Cancer Hospital for Balochistan. Even a Facebook page was created by these people named the Rehan Rind Foundation.
Astonishingly, lack of awareness is also a significant factor when it comes to cancer deaths. Many patients go for treatment when they are already in the third or fourth stage of the disease. In these stages, chances of survival are very low. Women in particular are suffering due to this issue because of different social problems
Many other cases were also highlighted on social media regarding cancer in Balochistan. This included the case of Humera, a small girl from Kech District. Her treatment was eventually paid for by a philanthropist. Another case that went viral was of a child named Kareem Bakhsh from Allah Bux. His doctor had demanded Rs. 500,000 for his treatment and his father had appealed to people for help.
These cases highlighted the need of a cancer hospital in Balochistan. Young activists took out rallies and marches, demanding a cancer hospital in the province. Sadly, their grievances went unheard by provincial and federal politicians.
After a short pause, many volunteers and social activists started campaigning and raising funds for Hammal Zafar — a blood cancer patient from Kech who was admitted in the Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi. His doctors demanded about 40 to 60 lakh rupees for his treatment, but most of the amount was collected through donations. Due to this, the issue became a hard topic of discussion on social and electronic media among the people of Balochistan. Recently, a rally was also taken out in Karachi regarding a cancer hospital’s construction in Balochistan.
International Cancer Awareness Day is held in Balochistan on February 4 by doctors, Non Government Organisations (NGOs) and civil society each year. But their voices are never heard by the concerned authorities.
Lack of funds is the biggest issue here. Most of the province’s cancer patients first visit Balon Medical College in Quetta but it only has an annual budget of Rs. 7 million for treating life-threatening diseases. It should be noted that medical experts claim that cancer is the most expensive to treat disease, requiring millions of rupees for treatment. For common Pakistanis, and common Balochistan-residents in particular, this is simply too much.
Astonishingly, lack of awareness is also a significant factor when it comes to cancer deaths. Many patients go for treatment when they are already in the third or fourth stage of the disease. In these stages, chances of survival are very low. Women in particular are suffering due to this issue because of different social problems.
Only the Centre for Nuclear Medicine and Radiotherapy and BMC Oncology Department are available for cancer patients in the province. It is difficult for common people to approach these institutions for treatment. Early recovery is only possible when the patient gets timely surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Owing to non-availability of hospitals in nearby locations, cancer has become a life-threatening disease for people of all ages in Balochistan.
It is disheartening to mention that no political parties are interested in this regard. As a result, we can find families, students as well as social activists seeking donations on social media from different people in the world. But donations are not a permanent solution.
The writer is a M.Phil. Scholar at Department of Sociology, University of Karachi, and Ex-DRI Research Fellow at National Commission for Human Rights Pakistan. His field of interest are Gender, Education and Culture
Published in Daily Times, March 1st2019.