About 10 residents of Musa village in Mansa district are suffering from cancer, but none has got relief under the Mukh Mantri Punjab Cancer Raahat Kosh Scheme – which provides for cashless treatment.A 65-year-old farmer, Chajju Singh, has been suffering from cancer for the past seven years. His illness has put his two sons, who own 2.5-acre land, under a debt of Rs 6 lakh. Chajju’s elder son Pargat Singh says that Rs 70,000 were borrowed in the past six months during treatment at Guru Gobind Singh Medical College and Hospital, Faridkot. “We have to purchase most of the medicines from private stores as the hospital doesn’t stock them,” says Pargat, who claims that the hospital staff have not informed them about the state government’s cashless scheme.Sarpanch Avtar Singh says that at least 12 villagers have died due to cancer.

He rues that a 20-year-old village girl, who suffers from blood cancer (terminal stage), has also been deprived of relief under the scheme.Balwinder Singh (34), a panchayat member, borrowed money from his friends to provide cancer treatment to his 50-year-old mother Mohan Kaur at the Faridkot hospital. He says cancer was detected about three months ago, but all that he got was Rs 50,000 — under the Bhagat Puran Singh Sehat Bima Yojana.“I urged doctors and the administration to provide my mother relief under the cancer scheme, but to no avail. Eventually, I had to use my health insurance card,” he says.

Battling red tape

Without much help from the government, 45-year-old Sukhdev Raj of Behman Diwana village in Bathinda district has been battling tongue cancer for the past more than a year. Working as a labourer at a brick kiln, he started undergoing treatment from the Faridkot hospital, and also got approval under the cancer relief scheme for an aid of Rs 1.5 lakh. However, red tape proved to be a stumbling block. Sukhdev failed to get reimbursed the bills for some of the medicines purchased from shops outside the hospital. According to his family, an assistance of Rs 20,000 was given by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).When contacted, Hanuman Prasad Yadav, who heads the cancer care unit at the Faridkot hospital, confirmed that in some cases, patients had to purchase medicines from outside the premises. “We receive about 150 patients every day, but the stock of medicines is adequate only for around 100 of them,” he says.

He adds that the treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) blood cancer is unavailable here, so they have to refer patients to an institute such as the PGIMER.Surgery out of reach for the poorSukhdev is awaiting blood infusion in the NCD (Non-Communicable Diseases) Centre at Bathinda’s Civil Hospital.His wife, Jaspal Kaur, says, “We have purchased medicines worth around Rs 25,000 from private shops as these are not available in the hospital. We submitted bills to the tune of Rs 7,500 about six months ago, but have not got a single penny so far.”Another bill of Rs 15,000 is yet to be submitted, she says. It costs Rs 400-500 to prepare a file of bills and submit it for reimbursement. “We have to spend about Rs 1,500 every week on treatment, including medicines and travel,” she adds.One of the objectives of the NCD Centre is the prevention and control of cancer under a national programme. However, the Bathinda-based NCD offers only chemotherapy, lacking the facilities of surgery and radiotherapy that are required for complete cancer care.For surgery, the cancer patients from the area have to go to the Faridkot medical college and hospital or another top institute as the empanelled private hospitals are unaffordable for the poor patients. Private hospitals charge more than Rs 1 lakh for surgery, while the cost is up to Rs 10,000 in government institutes.

The Advanced Cancer Diagnostic, Treatment and Research Institute, Bathinda, is yet to get the facility of cancer surgery and chemotherapy, even though the institute was the first in the state to have radiotherapy and advanced diagnostic facilities such as MRI and CT scan in a government set-up.When contacted, Secretary, Health, Hussan Lal, says the latest technology is being installed at the advanced centre in Bathinda. “The facility of surgery will be available soon. In the meantime, the patients can go to the well-equipped state-run hospital in Sangrur,” he says.