The government has taken an initiative to install modern equipment and develop infrastructure at the country's five nuclear medicine institutes to cope with the growing number of patients.
It will help common people outside Dhaka get an opportunity for diagnoses and treatment of some complex diseases, such as cancer and thyroid, through nuclear medicine at low cost. In addition, the diagnostic capacity of the institutes will increase and the patient control system will improve.
The Institutes of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (Inmas) will be modernised at Mitford, Cumilla, Faridpur, Barishal and Bogura at a total cost of Tk216 crore. The Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission will implement the project by 2025.
The project proposal has already been sent to the Planning Commission. Once approved, its implementation will start in the next financial year.
Dr Shamim Momtaz Ferdousi Begum, director and head of PET-CT Division of the National Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Science at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), told The Business Standard, "The use of nuclear medicine treatments is increasing day by day due to its ability to accurately diagnose cancer and complex thyroid diseases and provide treatments.
"Although medical colleges outside Dhaka have access to nuclear medicine, people are being deprived of services due to a lack of sophisticated equipment and manpower. So they have to come to Dhaka by spending money and time to avail of the service. In this situation, this project will play an important role in ensuring nuclear medicine services," she added.
In 1962, the first nuclear treatment commenced its journey in Bangladesh under the name "Radioisotope" at the Dhaka Medical College campus. The scope of medical services has been expanded by setting up Inmas at various government medical college hospitals across the country to provide low-cost nuclear medicine services to the general public.
However, the equipment of most of the Inmas centres outside Dhaka has become outdated and is unable to provide services due to the increasing pressure of patients, the project proposal said.
Dr Shankar Kumar Dey, director of Inmas, Faridpur, said the scanning machine installed at Inmas in Faridpur about 40 years ago has been out of order for six months. The company has said that the machine can no longer be serviced. The Faridpur Inmas does not have a state-of-the-art PET-CT scan machine for cancer diagnosis.
That is the reason for the people of Faridpur, who are suffering from various complex diseases of cancer and thyroid, to come to Dhaka for diagnosis and treatment. But due to high patient pressure in the capital, it takes too much time to get appointments and the cost also goes up, he added.
Dr Shankar Kumar Dey said that with the implementation of the new project, sophisticated machines will come, and then people will get better services. However, besides providing machines, it is also important to increase the number of manpower.
He pointed out that there is a shortage of manpower, including doctors, against the number of sanctioned posts. To provide quality services, the number of posts has to be increased and recruitment must be done accordingly.
In the proposed development project proposal, known as DPP, Tk122 crore has been earmarked for the purchase of foreign equipment, which is 56.37% of the total project cost.
Another Tk18 crore has been proposed for the purchase of local machinery, which is 8.63% of the total project cost.
Demand for nuclear treatment is on the rise
The need for nuclear treatment for proper diagnosis and treatment of various non-communicable diseases such as cancer and thyroid has been increasing. But the lack of sophisticated machines, including PET-CT scans at the Inmas centres outside Dhaka, has led to patient pressure at BSMMU. Patients have to spend a lot of money to get services from private hospitals if they do not get appointments there.
Experts say nuclear treatment methods are used to diagnose various diseases as well as provide medical services for thyroid, cancer and other thyroid-related diseases with the help of radioisotopes.
Dr Nafisa Zahan, director of Inmas in Barishal, told TBS, "The number of our patients has increased a lot compared to before. An average of 150 patients come daily for treatment. Patients can't be provided with seating facilities, they have to wait a long time to get services."
"We do not yet have a PET-CT scan machine here. Greater Barishal residents have to go to Dhaka for this service, and the pressure on Dhaka increases. That is why Pet-CT scan machines are necessary to serve the people of this region," she added.
Dr Shamim Momtaz Ferdousi Begum said, "PET-CT is an advanced technology. This makes it easier to diagnose cancer."
"It is possible to determine the stage of cancer: whether it has spread, whether it is responding properly to chemotherapy or radiotherapy, whether the disease is recurring, whether the right cancer drug is being given. This reduces the pain and cost of a patient," she added.
Under this project, modern PET-CT, SPECT-CT, BMD, Thyroid gamma camera, Thyroid Uptake, and Color Doppler machines will be installed based on the demand of INMAS as well as improve the quality of nuclear treatment service or management.
Dr Jahangir Alam, immediate past director of Planning and Development at the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, told TBS, "Once the project is implemented, the service will be delivered to the doorsteps of the people at low cost."
"The poor coming from villages will get better services through nuclear medicine in the district town at low cost," he added.