Time for policy intervention

It is imperative for the Nagaland Government to adopt a comprehensive health policy, particularly for the non-communicable diseases like cancer. Its high prevalence in Nagaland as well as in other northeastern states has been regularly highlighted by several reports as well as medical practitioners.


Most recently, a specialist noted that the region is dubbed as the “epicentre for non-communicable disease” especially Cancer with detection of around “39,635 patients in a year.”


The Morung Express had reported last year that at least 600 new cases of cancer are detected every year and Nagaland had the highest incidence of nasopharyngeal cancer in India in both the male and female population.


Among others, lifestyle changes, population increase, urbanization, consumption of alcohol and tobacco have increased cancer cases in the country and particularly in the Northeastern states and Nagaland, Dr. AC Kataki, Director of the Dr B Borooah Cancer Institute (BBCI), Guwahati, recently told an event in Dimapur.


Speaking on the Continuing Medical Education (CME) on common cancers of North East India programme at Eden Medical Centre in Dimapur on June 2, he also attributed ethnic food habits to high rise in cancer cases.


However, another pertinent aspect unique to Nagaland was that more than 70% of cancer patients avail treatment outside the state.


It might be due to lack of human resource in the field of oncology as well as lack of infrastructural and technical facility, the doctor reasoned adding, “Most of the common cancers in the NE are amenable for prevention and early detection by creating public awareness and increasing human resource in the field of oncology.”


Systematic data collection is lacking in the state and inadequate cancer statistics is acting as “impediments to quality care and research for cancer,” another doctor pointed out.


A 2013-2014 study also revealed that more than 50% of cancer patients were getting either no chemotherapy or any treatment at all in Nagaland due to socioeconomic inequalities such as poverty, inadequate education, and lack of health insurance plays a crucial role in the mortality of the cancer patients.


The state lacks even one radiotherapy unit to treat patients, The Morung Express report noted.


The handling of such disease as a social stigma with religious connotation also act as an impediment. At a recent charitable event related to cancer, “Hair for Hope India,” a survivor narrated how initially she suffered the “stigma and self-pity of considering herself unfortunate and cursed” as a “social worker and evangelist.”


Many cancer patients hailing from lower socio-economic sections of the society cannot even afford their fares to avail treatment out of their village, forget the payment for diagnosis or chemotherapy treatment.


Nagaland government yet to set up health schemes to assist poor patients “pending approval” although there are a number of schemes under central government for assisting poor patients, disclosed health official.


The department has rolled out the Dr. Ambedkar Medical Aid Scheme under which medical treatment facility are provided to those patients suffering from very serious illnesses such as kidney, heart, liver, cancer or any other life menacing diseases. However, nothing is visible implementation or publicity-wise.


The facts and ground realities are convincing enough for the State Government to address this alarming health burden on a war footing before it becomes one of the biggest health threats to all the visions and missions of the state governments.