Project in memory of Indira Jayasuriya – In collaboration with Cancer Care Association Sri Lanka.

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For want of adequate facilities at state run hospitals, Sri Lanka hadn’t been largely successful in detecting breast cancer at an early stage, the media was told at a meeting called by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya at his residential office yesterday.

The failure on the part of the public health system to diagnose breast cancer at an early stage due to lack of resources and the inability of vast majority of the population to access private hospitals were discussed at the meeting called to announce a special project in memory of 40-year-old Indira Jayasuriya, who passed away in the UK on Nov 2, 2016.

An emotional Speaker Jayasuriya said that having lost his second daughter to breast cancer, he was determined to help those who could not afford proper medical screening to ensure early detection. Jayasuriya said the Indira Jayasuriya Care Service would be one of the three projects they intended to implement countrywide.

‘The project will be implemented through Cancer Care Association of Sri Lanka (CCASL). The media was briefed of the proposed cancer care hotline and Indira Jayasuriya Pediatric Care. Primary objective of the Speaker’s initiative is meant to carryout a countrywide cancer awareness campaign.

Indira’s elder sister Dr Lanka Jayasuriya and Dr Samadhi Rajapakse of the CCASL explained the costly project undertaken with the blessings of the Health Ministry. The ministry offered maximum support for the project, Dr Jayasuriya said, adding that they had held several rounds of talks with senior ministry officials, including Health Secretary Anura Jayawickrema and Director General Health Services Dr Palitha Mahipala.

Speaker Jayasuriya and Dr Lanka Jayasuriya emphasized that the projects wouldn’t depend on public funds under any circumstances.

The media was told that mammography screening was available only in eleven state hospitals whereas the same could be had in 15 private hospitals. Both Dr Jayasuriya and Dr Rajapakse acknowledged that families lacked financial means to undergo mammography screening though it was essential. State of the art digital mammography screening would cost Rs 8,000, Dr. Rajapakse said. Contrary to the belief, breast cancer could be cured if detected early, he said.

In accordance with the overall project, they expected to acquire the first state-of-the-art mammography machine from Germany by April 2017. They expressed confidence in gradually expanding the services to all parts of the country absolutely free of charge. The mobile services would bring much needed facility to those vulnerable to the disease.

In response to a query by The Island, the media was told that of the 11 mammography machines, three were based at Maharagama, two at the National Hospital and one each at Narahenpita, Kalubowila, Karapitiya, Kandy, Polonnaruwa and Jaffna.

Asked whether the organisers of the project realized that allocation of funds for the public health sector wasn’t sufficient to cater to the needs of those struggling to make ends meet, Dr Jayasuriya explained efforts made by authorities to address such concerns. Dr Rajapakse emphasized that the government spent as much as Rs 9 mn for each patient and incurred massive expenditure in treating cancer patients.

Plantation Minister Navin Dissanayake acknowledged the urgent need to review policies and priorities not only in relation to health but various other sectors as well.

The media was told of the suffering of those who couldn’t afford required medicine and the plight of children compelled to receive treatment at hospitals for long periods, in some instances over a year and the mental trauma they underwent.

Dr Rajapakse explained efforts made by CCASL to facilitate early detection of cancer and provide a range of services and facilities to victims. Appreciating the government’s efforts to address the issue, Dr Rajapakse called for more volunteers and non governmental organisations to throw their weight behind public sector efforts.

Dr Rajapakse expressed concern over inordinate delay in substantial number of patients receiving treatment due to dearth of required facilities. Dr Rajapakse revealed that a cancer victim had to be in waiting list for nearly two and half years for particular treatment.

by Shamindra Ferdinando – The Island
Original narrative on The Island