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Down To Earth Impact: ICMR To Send Team To Study Cancer In Odisha’s Bargarh

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has taken note of Down To Earth’s reportage on the unusually high occurence of cancer in Bargarh district in western Odisha. It plans a study there to  understand the related epidemiological, clinical and bio-chemcial aspects.

DTE ran this correspondent’s story in its 1-15 October, 2019 edition, highlighting the plight of the citizens of the agriculture-intensive area and underscoring overuse of pesticides.

The reportage has been discussed and a team was scheduled to be sent on October 14, said Sanghamitra Pati, the director of ICMR’s Regional Medical Reseaerch Centre at Bhubaneshwar.

“First, we have to go study the pattern of the disease and whether there is clustering,” she told DTE.

A geospatial mapping is on the cards. An epidemiologist will check the distribution, the types of cancer and whether they are linked to chronic kidney disease – also prevalent in Bargarh – Pati said.

“There may be lot of linkages. The epidemiological study on time place and person distribution will form the background of an intensive study. We will tie up with either All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS)-Bhubaneswar or the Regional Cancer Centre in Cuttack,” she added.

DTE has documented families with more than a single cancer patients. In some cases, the disease has transcended generations. The cases were spread over several villages in what is known as the ‘rice bowl of Odisha’. The indiscriminate use of pesticide was flagged by several, from local doctors to agricultural experts.

The government maintained that little could be done in the absence of concrete data. Locals, on the other hand, pointed towards a a vicious circle where the government would not initiate research and then blame the lack of any. The civil society’s demand for a cancer hospital hasn’t yielded result.

“Everybody knows it is related to pesticide but it needs to be empirically established,” said Apollo Hospital-Bhubaneswar’s Nitish Acharya. The hospital received a lot of cancer patients from Bargarh, he added: “The reportage is in consonance with what we find in our day to day experience – not only the scale but also the types of cancers.”

“We require an early detection centre and cancer awareness programme,” Acharya said and stressed on the need for a scientific study.

The local AIIMS, earlier, stressed on the necessity of such a study after DTE’s coverage. “We will strongly pitch for a an AIIMS-ICMR study. It has to be epidelomolgial. Then a massive clinical research is required. It is high time we study Bargarh to come out with a tangible solution. Else, the region can become another Bathinda,” Madhabanananda Kar, who heads Surgical Oncology at AIIMS-Bhubaneshwar, told DTE.

Bathinda in Punhab has been notorious for a high number of cancer cases.

Kar corroborated that the types of cancers occuring in Bargarh were typically tied to the use of pesticides and urged the government to promote sustainable organic farming.

Noted journalist Sarda Lahangir, who hails from Bargarh and whose husband survived cancer, had a sense of déjà vu. “I have seen the suffering of cancer patients closely. My husband Aswini was detected with the cervical gland (head and neck region) cancer in 2007. It took us time to come to terms with the reality and fight,” she said. The couple managed to beat the disease, but after exhausting all savings. “We were ruined mentally, physically and emotionally,” Lahangir said.

Arabind K Padhee, the country director if International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics took to the social media to alert policymakers. – Down To Earth

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