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AIIMS Bhopal unable to provide free cancer treatment to 1984 victims despite HC order, Patients forced to pay out of pocket

In Bhopal, the Sambhavna Trust clinic recently released their community health survey data which shows that cancer is 2.5 times more prevalent in Bhopal gas tragedy victims compared to an unexposed population in other parts of the city.

Women in the gas-exposed population were also found to be more likely to get lung cancer. The gas tragedy, which occurred on the night of December 2-3, 1984, caused severe ailments and thousands of deaths in the capital city of Madhya Pradesh.

In September 2021, the Jabalpur High Court ordered that free treatment be provided to Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims suffering from any form of cancer at AIIMS Bhopal. Dr. Laxmi Prasad of Bhopal AIIMS said that the patients must obtain a referral letter from the Gas Relief Department to take advantage of the scheme. “Every patient will get complete treatment as per the MOU, which doesn’t give any provision for the patient to incur any expenditure,” said Dr. Prasad. 

However, social activist Rachna Dhingra told Maktoob that none of the cancer patients who qualify for the free treatment have benefited from the scheme. She stated that the MOU was drafted on January 30, but it is still unsigned with the Medical Superintendent, and the Gas Relief Department has refused to provide a referral letter until the MOU is signed.

“It is disregarding the High Court’s directive,” she said.

The Supreme Court Advocate Karuna Nundy, on behalf of a group of survivors, informed the Court that about 93% of the victims suffering from cancer and renal failure received only INR 50,000 as compensation despite the Union government submitting a curative petition seeking an additional INR 7413 crores in compensation for the victims in 2010.

Mohit (name changed), whose mother was diagnosed with cancer in December 2022, has been advised by the AIIMS administration to treat his mother using an Ayushman card, which he cannot afford, he said to Maktoob. Despite several efforts to avail free-of-cost cancer treatment for his gas-victim mother, Mohit has been paying for her chemotherapy as he has not received a referral letter from the CMHO, which is required to take advantage of the High Court’s order.

“My mother has advanced breast cancer, and she is ill. We brought her to AIIMS Bhopal, but they are asking a referral letter from CMHO, who has yet to respond to our application. We are forced to buy expensive medicines for my mother’s treatment,” Mohit said.

“The AIIMS administration is tempting us with Ayushman card benefits, while Gas Relief is suggesting that we seek treatment from Navodaya, Chirayu, or GMHC. Then, what is the purpose of the High Court’s order? It is a public welfare scheme that requires immediate attention. The government is focused on Vikas Yatra, but actual development is lacking,” added Mohit.

According to Premchand, the database administrator of Sambhavna Trust Clinic, the survey data was collected from a door-to-door survey of 1483 families, and only patients diagnosed from a recognized clinic or hospital were included in the survey. The gas-exposed population within 2KM of Union Carbide Factory has 2.5% more prevalent cancer than the unexposed population that lives 8KM away from the factory, with several types of cancers like lung, liver, abdomen, and prostate.

Women comprised 32% of cancer patients in the gas-exposed group compared to 15% in the unexposed group.

“Furthermore, we have discovered that 32% of cancer patients in the gas-exposed group were women, compared to 15% in the unexposed group. While only one case of lung cancer was found in the unexposed population, there were eight cases in the gas-exposed population,” community worker Tasneem Zaidi said to Maktoob.

Sambhavna Trust Clinic, which has provided long-term care to over 36 thousand persons exposed to toxic gas and contaminated groundwater since 1996, has won several national and international awards, and its clinical research has been published in international scientific journals.

Huneza Khan is an independent journalist based in Madhya Pradesh.

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