Curing cancer centre woes
Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan this week became the latest person with his portfolio to promise that a National Oncology Centre (NOC) will be built to treat cancer patients in Trinidad and Tobago. First mentioned in the 2004 Budget under the Patrick Manning administration, the centre was launched with great fanfare in 2005 under then-health minister John Rahael.
There was a logo competition, guidelines for treatment were created, and building designs commissioned.
The centre was supposed to be operational by 2009. Then, in every budget after that, the completion date for the centre kept getting pushed farther and farther off.
In the 2008 Budget, work was said to have started and the NOC was due two year later. In the 2010 Budget, completion was promised in 2011. By this time, millions of dollars had been spent, but the centre remained a hollow promise.
The People’s Partnership took office and, in January 2011, then-health minister Therese Baptiste-Cornelis announced that Cabinet had given the “green light” for the project and, in the 2011 Budget, a completion date in 2012 was promised.
Now, eight months into 2013, Minister Khan has announced that Cabinet has approved almost $1 billion for this long-awaited centre. This is a price tag which suggests that the NOC is starting over from scratch.
According to Dr Khan, the construction of the NOC will cost some $443 million, but costs for equipment and consultancy had brought the entire project to some $891 million. It is unlikely that the citizens of T&T, who are footing this bill, will ever find out what happened to monies already spent on the NOC.
Despite all the waste which has occurred so far, the Cancer Society still finds itself having to raise $2.2 million to buy a mammography machine. This alone implies that the politicians do not consider the NOC to be a priority, since they willingly spend many more millions on many less important projects which they think will get them votes and popularity.
But cancer is the third leading cause of death in T&T. According to figures from the Elizabeth Quamina Cancer Registry, there were over 10,000 cases between 2003 to 2007 affecting an equal number of men and women. Many of these persons could have had their lives prolonged and even been saved if the Centre had been operational.
Dr Khan, however, claims that he doesn’t “play politics where the health of the people of this country is concerned.” Whether this is so or not, he has now staked his reputation on the centre being built on schedule and within budget.