NEARLY a decade after it was promised at a cost of over $150 million to start, the foundation of the National Oncology Centre (NOC) remains abandoned and overgrown.
The NOC site is adjacent to the Eric Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC) in Mount Hope.
The decade-old foundation is, to many, a testament of successive governments’ failure to provide for cancer stricken citizens.
A large sign outside the site still boasts of the coming Centre, which Health Minister Fuad Khan said last Sunday would be delivered in 18 months at a cost of $443 million.
Khan was asked for an update on the project following a concert hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago Cancer Society (TTCS), featuring British band Blake, to raise funds for the purchase of a $2.2 million digital mammography machine.
The concert was held at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) in Port of Spain last Saturday night.
At the concert, former Society chairman, Dr George Laquis, spoke of the high cost of cancer care in Trinidad and Tobago and called for the NOC to be delivered.
The Centre was started by the People’s National Movement (PNM government), and had been promised to be operational by 2004.
The sod wasn’t turned until 2007, by then health minister John Rahael, and with the start of construction, offices were set up by the Ministry of Health and some staff hired.
This included doctors who worked at private institutions like the Brian Lara Cancer Treatment Centre (BLCTC), who were mandated to advise the ministry on the Centre.
The State, in the meantime, began funding some urgent cases who could not afford private care, to private institutions like the (BLCTC), at a cost of millions.
Cancer treatment equipment at the public St James Clinic is still considered inadequate, and most patients are struggling to meet the cost of private treatment locally and treatment abroad.
Cost overruns and institutional problems have plagued the NOC, bringing it to today, where it is nothing more than a collection of concrete covered in moss and weeds.
In 2012, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan promised to have the Centre up and running by 2014, then citing the cost at $663 million, as the cost of construction had increased.
Khan also then said another $52 million would have to be shelled out for equipment and administrative start-up costs under the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT).
New talk of the NOC does little for some citizens living with cancer, however.
Nadia Maharaj, 54, of Arima, said her husband, 62-year-old cancer patient Chandragupta Maharaj, would have today benefited from the promises of a decade ago.
Maharaj said her family has spent in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for private treatment at the BLCTC, where her husband now refuses to return, and they are currently trying to muster up the funds for treatment abroad.
“I am very happy for those who will benefit from the NOC,” Maharaj said yesterday, “but promises are doing little for families like ours right now”.