The establishment of Cancer Hospitals at 8 Divisional Levels project aiming to reduce pressure on Dhaka with the expansion and decentralisation of cancer treatment in the country has advanced only 0.29% in more than two years.
The project was approved in July 2019 to build eight cancer hospitals in eight divisions of the country by July 2022 at a cost of around Tk2,388 crore. However, the project spent only Tk6.83 crore till August 2021.
Recently, a meeting of the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Department (IMED) of the Ministry of Planning on slow-moving projects disclosed this information.
Participants in the meeting said if eight hospitals were completed by June next year, 800 more beds would have been added for cancer treatment, reducing pressure on hospitals in Dhaka.
The newly built hospitals would make early detection of cancer possible, thus reducing cancer deaths and the cost of treatment as well, they said.
According to the Ministry of Health, the sites for a cancer hospital on the premises of the Kuwait-Bangladesh Friendship Hospital in Dhaka, and Khulna Medical College in Khulna, have not been determined yet. However, the authorities have issued work orders to contractors for building cancer hospitals in six other divisions.
Project Director FM Musa Al Mansoor said that preparing for the construction of these six hospitals has begun and there will be visible progress of the project soon.
The IMED meeting expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of progress of the project at the field level in more than two years. Health ministry officials said at the meeting that it will not be possible to complete the project within the next 10 months.
Dr Mohammad Amzad Hossain, deputy head of the socio-economic infrastructure department of the planning commission, urged making a time-bound action plan to complete the project within the stipulated time. He also recommended the action plan be reviewed regularly at meetings of the project implementation committee and the steering committee of the project.
The meeting directed sending the Gantt charts of the six hospitals which have issued work orders to IMED so as to complete the construction work expeditiously.
Khandakar Mohammad Ali, deputy secretary of the Health Services Department, said at the meeting that a committee has already been formed by the department to identify several sluggish projects and to monitor them. The committee will take initiative to speed up the cancer hospital project, he said.
In 2016, the prime minister directed the health ministry to build cancer hospitals in all the divisions of the country during the approval of the Construction of Cancer Centre at Dhaka CMH project.
The divisional cancer hospital project was later approved with the aim of reducing pressure on Dhaka, the capital, with an early cancer diagnosis, medical expansion, and decentralisation. Reducing dependence on foreign medicine, saving foreign exchange and reducing the out-of-pocket expenditure of patients on cancer treatment were also project targets.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), various types of cancer are responsible for 7.7% of female deaths in Bangladesh. The rate is 6.4% for males. Although cancer is the fourth leading cause of death among adults in the country, BBS identified it as the leading cause of death among children between the ages of one and 12.
Pradip Ranjan Chakraborty, secretary of IMED, told The Business Standard, "Low- and middle-income people in the country are falling into poverty trying to bear the cost of cancer treatment. As there is no cancer treatment facility elsewhere across the country, everyone has to come to Dhaka for treatment. So, there is no alternative but to expand and decentralise cancer treatment."
Expressing frustration with the sluggish progress of such important projects, the secretary said, "Although time has expired for some projects, no progress has been made. IMED is organising a special meeting to speed up all these projects."
Project Director FM Musa Al Mansoor said, "Although the implementation period of the project is shown from July 2019, it was approved by Ecnec three months later in September. The project director was appointed only in March 2020, so no work started in the first nine months."
"After this, the medical colleges of the concerned divisions were contacted to determine and assign space. Then, site selection, design formulation, and the tender invitation process took more time. The project was also disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic," he added.