Though the number of cancer patients is growing alarmingly in the country, treatment facilities and specialist doctors are very scanty here for lack of a comprehensive oncology education programme, said experts.
As a result, they said, nearly 50 percent cancer patients have to go abroad spending huge money for the treatment of the deadly diseases while many others either stop continuing treatment halfway through or die without treatment or getting maltreated.
According to officials at the National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital (NICRH), there are only 16 medical oncologists in Bangladesh against the requirement of at least 2,000-2,500.
Besides, they said, the country requires at least 5,000 hospital beds for cancer patients but now it has only 500.
Chief Patron of Medical Oncology Society in Bangladesh Prof Dr M A Hai said it is estimated that about 200,000 people are affected with cancer in Bangladesh every year.
"Our existing treatment facilities can serve hardly 70,000-75,000 patients. The vast majority of patients either go abroad or remain undetected, and possibly die untreated or maltreated," he said.
He said it is urgent to develop infrastructure and increase equipment and adequate skilled manpower to ensure cancer treatment facilities at least in every division to alleviate the sufferings of people affected with the fatal disease.
Dr Muhammad Rafiqul Islam, an assistant professor at the National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital (NICRH), said the number of cancer patients is increasing in the country for various reasons, including food adulteration, environment pollution, smoking and genetic problems.
He said there are now around 15 to 20 lakh cancer patients in Bangladesh while around 2, 00,000 more such patients are added every year. "Of them, 1.2 lakh die each year."
Rafiqul said more than 50 percent cancer patients go abroad for treatment for lack of healthcare facilities and skilled manpower in the country and thus it is losing huge foreign currency.
"We've only 16 oncologists in the country while only four students in oncology department get chance in medical colleges every year. So, how will we get enough doctors?" he observed.
The NICRH professor said there is a severe shortage of efficient manpower in specialised cancer treatment for lack of a comprehensive oncology education programme. "We want medical oncology subject to be included in most of the medical colleges to increase doctors to take care cancer patients."
Maruf Al Hasan, a blood cancer specialist of Apollo Hospitals Dhaka, said cancer institution is needed in every division as cancer patient is increasing sharply in the country.
"Around 500 cancer patients are getting admitted to our hospital every month while a huge number of adults are getting affected with blood cancer. Besides, youth and children are also increasingly affected with it," he added.
Dr Maruf said huge cancer patients, mainly middle-income ones, go to India from Bangladesh for treatment. "But the rich ones go to Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the USA and the UK. So, we need to improve cancer treatment facilities in our country. If a cancer institute is set up in every division, then patients will be able to receive treatment there instead of going abroad."
Prof Dr Kanak Kanti Barua, Vice-Chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said cancer is now a major challenge for the country.
"Concentrations and patterns of pollution in developing country like Bangladesh have altered dramatically with the rapid economic development and urbanization over the past decade which is associated with cancer incident or mortality, especially for high pollution ranges and lifestyle factors. So, we need adequate skilled manpower to address the problem," he observed.
Prof Parveen Shahida Akhter, chairperson of Medical Oncology Society in Bangladesh, said cancer treatment is a multidisciplinary approach and medical oncologists are the part and parcel of comprehensive cancer management.
"We've a few medical oncologists which is very much in sufficient with respect to the need of Bangladesh till today. Seats are limited at the entry point and also scarcity of posts to deploy existing postgraduate faculties. Besides, there's no medical oncology department in medical colleges hospitals in our country, except the NICRH, Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital, Cancer Centre and Combined Military Hospital (CMH)," she said.
Parveen said all these centres are Dhaka-based ones and overburdened with huge cancer patients. "This situation frequently hampers the quality of cancer management and increases the treatment costs and sufferings of the patients."
To overcome the problem, the country needs to decentralise cancer care and ensure modern and well-managed cancer facilities in the peripheries as soon as possible.