Govt seeks to scrap Bir tender for radiotherapy machine

Published On: April 24, 2017 12:20 AM NPT By: Bishnu Prasad Aryal

KATHMANDU, April 24: Following a controversial procurement process at Bir Hospital for a Cobalt-60 radiotherapy machine, the Ministry of Health is planning to request the Indian embassy  to provide the machine as a grant.

“I have started the process for bringing the machine from India through the embassy,” Health Minister Gagan Thapa told Republica. He came to know that India provided an Indian-made radiotherapy machine to Sri Lanka as a grant.

Thapa expressed serious concern over the tender process at Bir  to procure the equipment  at a price of Rs 118 million. The equipment is worth Rs 60 million.  “Why should we buy the expensive machine if it can be received as a grant?” said Minister Thapa..

 Cancer patients at Bir have remained deprived of radiotherapy treatment after a Canadian Cobalt-60 machine there stopped working 19 months ago. The patients have been forced to seek radiotherapy at other hospitals at exorbitant costs. The dysfunctional Cobalt-60 at Bir was purchased in 1991.

The  country's oldest hospital used to provide radiotherapy at the cost of Rs 5,000. Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital is providing the same service at Rs 25,000 while private hospitals charge Rs 75,000-125,000. Before the  Cobalt-60  machine broke down, 70 to 80 patients used to come to Bir  every day for checkup and cancer treatment.

Bir Hospital, which is under the National Academy of Medical Sciences (NAMS), had begun the process for purchasing the machine from Indian company Bhabhatron at the cost of Rs 118 million.

But specialist doctors there did not approve the purchase file as the Indian machine did not measure up to specifications.

The Indian machine  is of low quality and is not in significant use in  hospitals, according to the specialists. The Indian company had donated the machine to a hospital in Mongolia but doctors there were not satisfied with its performance.

Bir started its procurement for the Cobalt-60  machine last year with Rs 80 million provided by the ministry. But it did not go through with the purchase, citing insufficient budget. 

It called a global tender again about four months ago after the ministry provided Rs 150 million. Only two companies applied for the tender last time. Indian company Bhabhatron made a tender bid of Rs 118 million while a Czech company made a ternder offer of over Rs 123 million. 

These bids  were for machines that did not have United States FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval. It is reported that a company offering a Canadian Cobalt-60 with FDA approval was excluded from  the bidding process.

NAMS authorities have neither scarped the old bidding nor called for fresh bidding. Instead, they have been  pressing the specialists at Bir to rethink the  purchase and leaning on officials of the Commission for  Investigation of Abuse of Authority to that end, said sources.

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