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Cancer picture dismal, not complete

If the CWG inauguration was magnificent, its closing ceremony was memorably spectacular. However, certain happenings should be a lesson in objectivity for our media. The pre-inauguration drama on preparedness for the CWG had ranged from downright ridiculous to relentlessly ugly – with all sorts of charges, counter-charges, innuendoes and rumours thickening up the atmosphere. How could Punjabi TV have remained unaffected by this national hysteria?

So, just one day before the inauguration, Khabarsaar joined the breast-beating orgy with the anchor SP Singh wailing about the smudging of India’s fair name. The invited panellists wantonly joined the chorus of dirges. Nobody paused to think that truth could be significantly different. As it eventually turned out, there was no real danger of the Games getting scrapped. What magic wand, except hard work, could have made this turnaround from sure-shot disaster to resounding success? Clearly, Khabarsaar missed the big picture.

In a different context, the Day & Night channel’s well- documented report Cancer da Keher managed to capture the big picture. Swaran Singh Danewalia met the affected families in the Malwa region where people had to sell even their land and belongings to rescue their children and other kin from cancer’s clutches. Conversely, there were people who had abandoned their afflicted relations; and sick women were pushed out of their in-law’s homes for becoming a financial burden.

Society has remained insensitive to their plight so far. Socially ostracised, these people are living in literal hell. The report highlighted the lack of reliable data vis-`E0-vis the causes and spread of cancer. Worse, there are no adequate and affordable medical facilities in Punjab for treating cancer patients, who have to go to Bikaner where state-of-the-art amenities are available at affordable costs.

However, the less said about the railway services the better. Poor availability of food and water and no provision of stretchers and wheelchairs add to the afflicted travellers’ miseries. The train to Bikaner – nicknamed "cancer train" – is packed with passengers, resulting in poor sanitary conditions and uncomfortable journey. However, the doctors’ helpful attitude and availability of cheap boarding and lodging in Bikaner are big mitigating factors.

Poor medical facilities and high costs as well as governmental apathy in Punjab stood out in stark contrast. Although private cancer hospitals are coming up in Punjab, the state government has no plans as yet for setting up fully equipped government hospitals that would make the treatment readily available to the poor.

As a follow-up, D&N held a debate on the issue on October 5. Kanwar Sandhu set the tone by pointing out that during the last five years the number of cancer victims in Punjab’s Malwa region had increased threefold. Dr. Manjit Kaur from the NGO, Cancer Roko, informed that in Bathinda district, out of 14,000 persons examined, "suspected cases" numbered about 200. The Faridkot MP, Paramjit Kaur Gulshan (SAD), asserted that there were not many cancer patients in her constituency. However, the Congress MLA from Kotkapura, Ripjit Singh, declared that the ailment had acquired epidemic proportions in the Malwa belt. Sandhu cited reports of more than 10,000 cancer-related deaths in Punjab, while Dr. Rakesh Gupta from the State Health Department, informed that during 2001-09, there were 7,700 cancer cases, including deaths.

Still, nobody could explain why the disease is rampant in the Malwa region. Strikingly, although each of the specialists knew what was happening in his/her area of specialty, the sum total of their knowledge could not give a clear and complete picture regarding the actual situation in Punjab. Ripjit and Dr. Manjit averred that annual medical reimbursements to the Badal family alone amounted to Rs 5 crore. Contrast this with the common Punjabis selling their all to fight the scourge.

That completes the big, dismal picture; no?

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