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Cancer-stricken Kerala

Cancer-stricken Kerala

A state with a leading position at the national level in most areas of social attainments, Kerala also tops the national list in the number of cancer patients. That this is unfortunate was stated by chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan earlier this week while inaugurating the tertiary cancer centre in Calicut Medical College, and it should open the eyes of everyone.

In Kerala which has been the number one state in the matter of education, health care and medical facilities, 50,000 names are being added to the cancer patients' list each year - a fact that points to the essential need for robust and comprehensive preventive measures. It is estimated that 161 out of a lakh Keralite males and 165 females are cancer patients. During the three years from 2012 alone, 43,630 patients sought treatment in Regional Cancer Centre (RCC), Thiruvananthapuram. And each year this number has been increasing, let alone decreasing. And this when modern treatment facilities are being boosted in the state. A major section of the patients who approached RCC are those afflicted with breast cancer - 6,260. Well-known oncologist of Kerala Dr VP Gangadharan warns that in spite of the dedicated attempts of the government and private medical institutions to bring down the number of cancer-affected population, by 2026 the number of cancer patients is set to grow to a rate of 180 new patients each day. More unfortunately, even in the number of fatalities due to cancer, Kerala stands second behind Mizoram. It has also been found that even in the absence of death, 73.5 in one lac of women and 103.4 in one lac of men suffer from physical disability. No doubt the disease Malayalis dread most in cancer. It is true that the reported mortality figures are not in proportion to the number of patients. Still the concern of people is about having to go through constant pain and suffering. In spite of the rampant growth of palliative care centres all over the state, that does not prove to be a solution to this legitimate anxiety.

True, even today medical research has not so far been successful in identifying the root cause of cancer, in inventing preventive injections or in manufacturing medicines against the disease, but the rapid research activities in that direction do give some hopes. And the spread of cancer that grips Kerala as stated above is such as will pull back any advances made by medical science in this. One of the main causes for this, as many experts point out time and again, is the change in life style of Malayalis. Informed opinion has it that the excess flab resulting from overeating and unscientific food habits lead to the rise in incidence of contracting the disease at early age. The number of children contracting cancer globally per year is about 2 lacs; out of this 40,000 are Indians. There is a trend among pastry makers of adding deadly ingredients to boost taste and addiction. It is high time we paused to make a scientific study about how this adversely affects our young lives. In Kerala which already is a consumer state, it has not yet been possible to arrive at what quantum of chemicals are added, and the extent of their health hazards, in the fish and vegetable despatched from other states to Kerala. As per information available hitherto, governments have not been able to prevent them either.

There has been some action from the government of late to increase vegetable cultivation within the state, but it has reached nowhere near the demand. The state of things is such that what Kerala's markets provide in the name of coconut oil is not at all the oil extracted from copra. To be read with this, is the range of tobacco products flowing into the state via guest workers from other states and through other channels. The phenomenon of even school students becoming addicted to them is something we are forced to watch helplessly. On top of all this is the application of insecticides that causes huge environmental damage. It has been discovered that the villains in this are the insecticides used in the plantation areas of Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts. Surveys indicate that in the eastern region of Kerala over 50 per cent of people are under the threat of cancer.

In short, when the government and people of Kerala have entered the process of rebuilding a post-flood state, the dubious distinction of the highest number of cancer patients should get priority in our agenda. Ane even as we try our best to achieve freedom from cancer through vigorous awareness efforts and effective preventive measures, the government and people should set their eyes on making available to the common man the achievements of the developed world in scientific treatments and to make them as affordable as possible. When experts tell us that 89 per cent of blood cancer cases detected within six months, and 79 per cent detected within a year can be cured by treatment, there is no jusficiation for Kerala - which has achieved world standards in medical care - to lag behind.

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