World Cancer Day

Cancer patients suffer as Bir struggles to install US$4.1m outfit

Published On: February 5, 2019 06:00 AM NPT

TomoTherapy machine was brought to Nepal nine months ago

KATHMANDU, Feb 5: Even as the country marked World Cancer Day on Monday, hundreds of cancer patients visiting Bir Hospital remain hard hit as the country's biggest hospital has failed to install its new radiotherapy machine, which was brought to Nepal back in May.

The tender bid for the procurement of the US-made Tomo Therapy Machine was finalized about one and a half years ago. Hospital authorities reported that the TomoTherapy Machine, costing US dollars 4.1 million, was brought to Kolkata, India and dispatched to Nepal in May ."We have had difficulties treating cancer patients as the old radiotherapy machine became dysfunctional about four years ago," said Dr Bibek Acharya, associate professor and head of the Department of Clinical Oncology at Bir.

"The tender bid for the new machine was finalized about one and a half years ago but we are still waiting to get it installed," he added. Bir Hospital is facing a huge problem disposing of its old Cobalt-60 machine, which contains radioactive substances, said doctors. The contractor who supplied the machine was to dispose of it in India but the law does not allow that and neither to the Indians. Bir used to provide radiotherapy at a cost of Rs 5,000 while Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital is providing the same service at Rs 25,000. Private hospitals charge Rs 75,000-125,000 . When the new machine is in place it will cost around Rs 30,000 to 40,000 per radiotherapy treatment at Bir, according to the doctors. But the hospital has plans to provide the service for about Rs 10,000.

According to the hospital, it detects about 1,300 new cancer patients yearly. The number of new patients turning up per year at Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital is around 3,300 while Bharatpur Cancer Hospital records more than 6,000 new cases. After the Cobalt-60 stopped working four years ago, patients have had to go to other hospitals, where the costs are unaffordable. When the Cobalt-60 was still working, 70-80 patients used to come to Bir every day for the checkups and treatment. Nowadays, only around 30-40 patients come, according to Dr Acharya. “The number has been dwindling because of the delay in installing the new radiotherapy machine,” he said.

“The installation of the machine will take 3-4 months,” he added. “Every hurdle has now been cleared and we are in the process of removing the old machine and install the new one in the same room.”Bir Hospital attempted to purchase a radiotherapy machine worth Rs 60 million at a cost of Rs 118 million in March, 2017. The bidding was annulled after news reports about the irregularities appeared in Republica. It was the fourth bidding for a radiotherapy machine in the last three years, under the tenure of Prof Dr Ganesh Man Gurung as then vice-chancellor of National Academy of Medical Sciences (NAMS).In June the same year, Bir again called for tender bids, for buying the TomoTheraphy, the single high-end, latest radiotherapy machine at the cost of US$ 4.1 million. The bid was awarded to Bishal Pandit, who owns Hospitech Enterprises Pvt Ltd and Life Line Trade International Pvt Ltd. For US$ 4.1 million (approximately Rs 410 million), at least three radiotherapy machines (of Cobalt-60 type) or at least two machines (LINAC) could be purchased and these would be enough for three hospitals.

Under the bidding, the contractor would be responsible for disposing of the old Cobalt-60.At least two cases were filed at the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authorities (CIAA) in 2017 regarding irregularities in the course of equipment purchase by the hospital.

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