The country's first bone marrow transplantation unit was inaugurated at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) last Sunday. The unit is likely to fulfil a longstanding demand for treatment facilities for certain serious blood-related disorders, including leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma and thalassemia at an affordable cost. The bone marrow transplant is a procedure in which damaged bone marrow is replaced with healthy bone marrow stem cells that give rise to all essential blood cells.
Initially, autologous transplant in which the patients' own bone marrow is used will be available at the unit. The authorities concerned expect to introduce two other procedures---allogeneic (bone marrow stem cells of others) transplant and umbilical cord blood transplant, later. The demand for bone marrow transplant has been rising in the country with an increase in the number of blood cancer and thalassemia patients. But most of the patients afflicted with such serious ailments cannot afford bone marrow transplant available at foreign health facilities because of prohibitive costs.
A single case of bone marrow transplant in the USA costs around Tk 10 million and in India between Tk 2.5 million and Tk 3.0 million. But at the DMCH's transplantation facility, an autologous transplant, according to the authorities concerned, will cost a patient Tk 0.5 million and allogeneic Tk 1.0 million. The fees that would be charged at the local facility, however, in most cases would still be beyond the reach of most patients. Yet some patients, mainly coming from the middle income families, would be benefited since the costs involved in the treatment is affordable and it will do away with travel abroad.
The reason for not having bone marrow transplantation units in the private sector is not understandable, particularly when a good number of modern hospitals have come up in Dhaka and Chittagong in recent years. Neighbouring India has 28 bone marrow transplantation centres, mostly in the private sector. It is expected that major private sector hospitals would soon follow in the footsteps of the government in setting up bone marrow transplantation units equipped with modern and improved facilities. Such a move would help offer alternatives to patients and their families and create a competitive environment.
Those who have worked hard and extended help for setting up the transplantation unit at the DMCH, particularly the Massachusetts General Hospital of Boston, USA, deserve appreciation and thanks. But it would not be out of place to mention about the need for proper maintenance and operation of the unit and its expensive equipment, gadgets etc., and also for ensuring proper care in the case of patients who would be receiving treatment at the unit. Allegations of poor maintenance of government health facilities and indifference on the part of doctors and nurses to patients' welfare are common. Though authorities, in most cases, try to shrug off the allegations, public perception continues to be otherwise. Everybody would expect that the newly set up bone marrow transplantation unit would offer its best to the patients.