Monday, April 22, 2024

Fight Cancer, Fight It Any Day


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By Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh

This year the World Cancer Day falls on Sunday, February 4, and perhaps there was no public or official function to observe this day but I am certain that people are fervently praying in their homes, Temples, Mosques and Churches for their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends and neighbours who are struggling to be healed from this dreadful disease. I join them, not only today, rather daily in their battles and pray along with them that the Almighty grants them and all of us the courage and strength to fight another day and grants us the grace to use our pain to reach out to others, to help and support. We also pray that God touches us with healing hands and comforts us with hope. Let us find solace in the embracing love of the Almighty. The fight against Cancer warrants us to lend our hands and walk alongside those battling against it.
In the State of Meghalaya with the low income and poor economy, Cancer results not just in untimely deaths of patients, but also cost people’s earnings and livelihoods so dearly. It is disheartening to learn that Meghalaya tops in Cancer prevalence with East Khasi Hills District as the second highest Cancer incidence rate in the country. Although today the stigma attached to it has been significantly reduced, its impact on the economy of individual families and the State is huge.
With the advancement in medical sciences, hundreds of Cancer patients had survived the pain, trauma and deaths which it entails. In the words of a Cancer survivor who said, “I want people to know that it is possible not just to survive, but to thrive and live a wonderful life again.” These words will certainly give hope to hundreds of patients and their families, but they may sound meaningless to someone who couldn’t afford the cost nor has access to quality treatment.
In the neo-liberal era, health care is costlier than ever and it is slowly being converted into a privilege, rather than a right. Cancer treatment is costly and long driven and Marianna Mazzucato, the author of Value of Everything rued that, “today the price of Cancer treatments and medicine is extremely high and has touched the sky”. This forced patients and families into bankruptcy, and they had to sell off properties and exhaust their lifetime savings to meet exorbitant medical expenses.
It is also a fact that in Meghalaya, many Cancer patients take recourse to traditional treatments or “dawai Khasi” and the State abounds in traditional medical practitioners, especially in rural areas. The people are also content with these indigenous or folk healers for healing and survival. On the other hand, a good number of Cancer patients from the State availed treatment in the best hospitals in the Country and the State Government reimburses the medical bills for its regular employees. Besides, there are an equal number of Cancer patients who undergo treatment in Civil and other privately owned hospitals in Shillong. Therefore, citizens of Meghalaya can easily draw a comparison between Cancer treatments which are available within and outside the State.
Unlike workers in formal and government sectors in the State, unorganized/daily wage and contractual workers with low wages and other low-income groups, who do not have health insurances, where do they turn to for quality health care? Is the universal health insurance scheme in the State, like the MHIS, enough? A disease like Cancer does not just torment the patients, but the entire family. Therefore, the priority and primary duty of the State is to provide a holistic and universal support system. But in the context of the deteriorating health care system in the State a campaign for universal, affordable and quality health care is imperative.
No doubt, the State does have specialized doctors, trained and committed medical professionals who can serve and whose services we desperately need. But questions remain as to what is the quality of machines/health infrastructures, availability of medicines, human resources and care which are the prerequisites for Cancer treatments?
After more than fifty years of Statehood a special audit can also be conducted as to how much the Government had spent for Cancer treatments etc., of its esteemed regular employees outside the State? Perhaps such an audit will give us an idea of the cost being incurred from the State exchequer which will in turn guide and make the Government to improve health care facilities in the State and result in cutting down the costs and help people to have access to treatment within the State. Should not the same medical reimbursements be awarded to all the employees, including the contractual workers of the State Government? How far has the State been able to provide the necessary support system to Cancer patients and families who are outside the gate?
In today’s world, Cancers are treatable, and patients can recover and resume their lives, provided they have access to quality health care and support systems. Patients need financial, physical and psychological support. A better health care system also includes a strong socio-economic support system, and this is the essence of tribal society of Meghalaya where care and support for the sick, old age etc., is considered a sacramental duty. However, in the process of urbanization and materialism this element in tribal society is being eroded and this has adversely impacted the overall wellbeing and happiness of the people.
In the fight against Cancer, we need to rediscover the lost socio-economic support system for the sick and destitute found in close knit tribal society. More importantly is to enhance the universal health insurance scheme to not less than ₹ 30 lacs and the scheme should cover every ailment and expand the benefits under the scheme to provide free and quality health care and cancer treatments to BPL families. The State of Meghalaya is also known to be religious and spiritual. There are a number of religious groups who care for the state/society and therefore it is high time for them to engage in giving palliative care and support (not only with prayers) to improve the quality of life of Cancer patients.
Let me conclude with the words of Bishop Shelby Spong, Anglican Bishop of Newark, USA who said, “to pray for the will of God to come is to make a commitment to be actively and passionately involved in the affairs of life, including a commitment to share our life, our humanity and our bread with everyone…”


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