Cancer patients suffer in lack of tomotherapy machine

Published On: August 23, 2018 02:30 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

Bid to buy Tomotherapy machine was finalized a year ago

KATHMANDU, August 23: Cancer patients visiting Bir Hospital have been hit hard after the hospital failed to buy the new radio therapy machine to treat cancer patients.

The biggest and oldest hospital of the country awarded the bid to supply the US made Tomo Therapy Machine a year ago. However, it has failed to bring the machine so far.

"We have faced difficulties to treat the patients as the Radio Therapy Machine we have became dysfunctional three years ago," said Associate Professor Dr Bibek Acharya, head of the Department of Clinical Oncology under Bir Hospital. "The bid was finalized last year but we are still waiting for the machine," he added.

Bir Hospital attempted to purchase a radiotherapy machine worth Rs 60 million at the cost of Rs 118 million in March, 2017. The bidding process was cancelled after a news report about irregularities was published in Republica and Nagarik dailies. It's the fourth bidding process to buy the radiotherapy machine in the last three years during the tenure of Prof Dr Ganesh Man Gurung, erstwhile vice chancellor of National Academy of Medical Sciences (NAMS).

In June 2017, Bir Hospital under the NAMS again invited a bid to buy US-made single high-end and latest radiotherapy machine at the cost of US$ 4.1 million (Approximately Rs 410 million) and bidding was rewarded to Bishal Pandit, who owns Hospitech Enterprises Pvt Ltd and Life Line Trade International Pvt Ltd. Bir Hospital awarded Life Line a huge tender for the purchase of the radiotherapy machine. At the cost of US$ 4.1 million, at least three radio therapy machines (Cobalt-60) or at least two machines (LINAC) can be purchased which is enough to provide services at three hospitals.

The Cobalt-60, which the hospital had and was being used to treat cancer patients through radiotherapy, stopped working three years ago. Since then, the patients have been forced to go to other hospitals for radiotherapy where they have to pay high charges.

Before the Cobalt-60 machine went dysfunctional, 70-80 patients used to come to Bir Hospital every day for checkup and treatment of cancer. Nowadays, only 30-40 patients visit the hospital daily for cancer checkups, according to Dr Acharya.

As per the bid, the contractor was responsible for disposing the dysfunctional Cobalt-60 machine by taking it to India from Bir Hospital. However, the contractor has done nothing to remove the machine for installing the new one.

Contractor Pandit claimed that Tomo Therapy Machine is now at the customs office in Birgunj. "It's in the process of getting clearance. It will be brought to Kathmandu within a week," Pandit claimed, "Removing Cobalt-60 is also in the process. The process has been delayed because we had to take permission from both Nepali and Indian government.

Bir Hospital authorities in May reported that Tomo Therapy Machine had been taken to Kolkata of India and moved for Nepal.

Dr Bhupendra Basnet, director at Bir Hospital, said that Tomo Therapy Machine has already been brought to Nepal. "We have faced big problem to remove or dispose old Cobalt-60, which contains radioactive substance," he said. "Earlier, contractor Pandit promised to dispose it in India but the law or Indian side does not allow to do so. No agent is here in Nepal to dispose it," he said. "Removing the old machine has become a big problem before installing the new one. We are seeking ways to remove the old equipment," he claimed.

Bir Hospital used to provide radiotherapy at the cost of Rs 5,000 while Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital is providing the same service at Rs 25,000 while other private hospitals charge Rs 75,000-125,000 for the radio therapy service. The service through the new proposed machine will cost around Rs 30,000 to 40,000 per radiotherapy treatment at Bir Hospital, according to the doctors. Bir planned to provide the service at the cost of about Rs 10,000 from October 2017.

According to Bir Hospital, about 1,300 new cancer patients are detected yearly at the hospital. The number of new patients in Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital is around 3,300 while Bharatpur Cancer Hospital records more than 6,000 new cases of cancer each year.

At least two cases were filed at the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) last year regarding irregularities in the course of equipment purchases by the hospital.

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