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Low immunity, lockdown blues: Kashmir cancer patients’ lives hang in balance

Srinagar: Ghulam Nabi Bhat, a 74-year-old cancer patient found himself caught between a rock and a hard place in the face of the recurrent COVID lockdowns.

Hailing from the Sanat Nagar locality in Srinagar, Bhat suffers from stage two multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that causes cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, where they crowd out healthy blood cells.

 

“We could ill-afford to wait out a crisis of this length at home or rely on telemedicine alone. So instead of seeking treatment from Regional Cancer Centre SKIMS,  he now receives his weekly chemotherapy cycles from a private hospital,” said his son who does not want to be named.

Several cancer patients in Kashmir remain apprehensive as their life hangs in balance due to coronavirus. On the one hand, they are at risk of developing severe complications from Covid-19 because of their low immunity, and on the other delaying, the treatment can have dire consequences.

Sample this: A 56-year-old woman from South Kashmir who was diagnosed with colon cancer in March, returned to a private hospital in Srinagar last week for the treatment.

 While she was in stage II four months ago, her ailment has now reached a final stage. “We have recommended radiotherapy which is the only option. She could not travel for check-ups during the lockdown,” the oncologist examining her said.

Lone Mohammad Maqbool, Professor, and Head of Department Radiation Oncology, SKIMS said the patient inflow has decreased considerably.

“On average, if there were 100 patients, only 60 percent come for treatment at present. One of the reasons for the decrease is also because the follow-up cases are given medical advice over the phone,” Lone said.

He, however, apprehended that the patients who were in the early stages of the terminal illness two months ago might have now progressed to the later stages with a reduced chance of recovery.

“This stems from the fact that many fresh cases updated at the registration counter on a normal day would be around 10-15. It has come down to seven to eight. It indicates that there are some patients who are reluctant to avail treatment from the hospitals,” he said.  

Moreover, Lone pointed out that the malaise of having at least three people on an average attending the patient creates crowding.

“The patient is already immune-compromised and thus at greater danger from his attendants, not to speak of posing a threat to doctors. We request people to refrain from this practice,” he said.

Another oncologist at Government Super Specialty Srinagar said cancer treatment lines such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are typically time-sensitive and must be delivered swiftly, in clinical settings, to arrest the spread of cancer.

 “Difficult as it might be, cancer patients must learn to treat the post-COVID world as a ‘new normal,’ and remain focused on what they need to do to manage their illness. Healthcare providers and policymakers, for their part, must remain committed to providing cancer patients with the highest standards of care throughout, removing bottlenecks to access wherever possible,” he said wishing anonymity.