Despite registering an unprecedented rise, the incidences of cancer have failed to pinch the empathy levels of the state’s policymakers. As more people fall prey to the fatal disease, Sheikh Umar Ahmad argues it’s time we turn our attention towards the state of healthcare in J&K.
The cancer incidences in Kashmir have touched alarming levels with experts sensing a cancer catastrophe in the coming decade. The unprecedented rise in cancer cases this year which are doubling since last eight years send a message down to experts and administrators to find causes and to curb this growing concern in the valley.
The situation is taking everyone by surprise with more and more people being diagnosed with one or the other form of cancer. The growing incidence in Kashmir has failed to move the successive governments of Jammu and Kashmir as infrastructure for diagnosis and treatment remains abysmally poor, according to medicos and patients (Greater Kashmir report, 20-03-2016). The Regional Cancer Center at SK Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) at Soura happens to be the only dedicated cancer treatment facility with number of patients swelling every year which stretches the RCC facility for diagnosis, management and treatment beyond limits, forcing many patients to seek treatment in the private sector outside the state which acts as a money minting tool for established hospitals.
As per official records, a minor malignancy takes almost three months for surgery which ultimately leads to development of metastatic tumours due to over-proliferation and fast dividing nature of cancer cells. Most patients can’t afford to move out. Of all the cancers registered, gastrointestinal malignancies have the highest occurrence, accounting for over 30 percent reported cancers in Kashmir.
Experts at Valley’s lone tertiary-care hospital claim that consumption of high salt content (including nun chai) and infection with Helicobacter Pyroli bacteria could be the possible reason for high incidences of this cancer. Besides, the high incidence of CRC (Colorectal Cancer) has been associated with food habits and changing life style patterns. In addition, some dyes used in industrial makeups have been thought as human carcinogens.
The high incidence of GI tract malignancies have been linked to heavy metal contaminations in soil, water, vegetables, fruits etc. but we are not sure about its prognosis due to slow research collaboration in this field.
Apart from “killer foods”, Kashmiri markets are flooded with cooking oils and milk laced with dangerous additives and adulterants such as detergents, a trend that experts believe is creating an epidemic catastrophe. In reality, according to sources, no tests are conducted to check the dangerous adulterations. All these chemicals are proven carcinogens or are suspected to be so.
Food safety officers spare sellers of adulterated milk on payment of Rs 500 as fine. Corruption has marred the very fabric of transparency and accountability in the state. Srinagar’s lone food testing laboratory lacks equipment, infrastructure and manpower with no mechanisms in place to check pesticides, dangerous metals in water and food, thus pushing the healthcare system in the state on the back-burner.
In 2002, a survey by FSSAI revealed that 80 percent of milk sold in Jammu and Kashmir contained adulterants. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in one of its reports said detergents are a cause of food poisoning and gastrointestinal complications. Other common additives to milk impair the functioning of various organs of the body, causes heart problems and cancer.
So if this grim situation is taken into consideration, we can only conclude that it is official mismanagement and negligence that is indirectly responsible for worsening situation. Lack of diagnostic facilities, manpower, proper food safety standards and flop administrative strategies add to this serious cause. Little research is conducted to check the role of various heavy metal contamination in foods and water which lead to unawareness among the general masses due to non-dissemination of authentic knowledge at the grassroots level. Use of pesticides and fungicides by apple orchardists in the valley which has been linked in past to various brain tumours and neurodegenerative diseases, has been given little or no thought.
In recent past, the outbreak of Hepatitis C at Kokernag was confirmed to be due to contaminated drinking water supply. Despite the report coming in news, no action has been taken against the Public Engineering Department amid false promises.
Whether it is food adulteration, changing lifestyle patterns or lack of diagnostic and treatment facilities in the Valley that had added to the rising deadly diseases, it is more precisely the administrative mismanagement that has paved way to all these corruptive assemblies and establishments.
So, the need of the hour is to channelize a proper research collaboration as to find the role of all the presumed causes of rising cancer incidences and other diseases that have flourished in the Valley over years of maladministration and corruption. Every time the state government takes action once the cause has taken roots, although it is never too late. To take suo-moto cognisance of Greater Kashmir reports and treat them as as Public Interest Litigation (PIL), the High Court’s decision to investigate the rising concern is a welcome move. One can hope that it will turn other papers to the best interest of state subjects.
The author works at CSIR – Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine, Jammu, as a scholar. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.