Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cancer in Punjab - The beginning of End


A recent story on NPR discussed the “cancer train” in Punjab. The train is so named as it routinely carries about 60 patients and their families from Bathinda to the town of Bikaner in order to get treatment at the government’s regional cancer center. Studies now suggest that populations with high use of pesticides have an increased risk of cancer. This seems to be the case in Punjab, where the introduction of the Green Revolution in the 1960s not only led to increased production of agriculture but also adverse health outcomes. The NPR piece discusses how villages that use pesticides were shown to have higher rates of cancer than villages that did not use pesticides.

Green Revolution legacy

Farmers believe they may be paying a price for the success of the 1970s' Green Revolution. That was when farmers in Punjab switched from traditional farming methods to a combo formula of 'high yield seeds-fertiliser-pesticide-water'. The small but wealthy state on an average now accounts for 19% of wheat and 13% of India's rice production. The Green Revolution, and Punjab's contribution, ensured that from begging for food and aid, India went on to export food grains.
Excessive and unregulated use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers since the Green Revolution has led to high cancer and birth defect rates among the farmers of southern Punjab.For one, Punjab farmers' use of pesticides is 923 g/ha (grams per hectare), way above the national average of 570 g/ha.

The state's cotton belt, Malwa came to be known more for the incidence of cancer; cotton crops are prone to pests. Farmers here use at least 15 different pesticide sprays. Of the top 15 pesticides used, the US Environmental Protection Agency considers seven used on cotton in the US as 'possible', 'likely', 'probable,' or 'known' human carcinogens (acephate, dichloropropene, diuron, fluometuron, pendimethalin, tribufos, and trifluralin).

Regardless of whether increased pesticide use is the cause of higher rates of cancer in Punjab, it is clear that a public health crisis exists. Often times the impact of these diseases is seen in subsequent generations. With the State indebted to new technologies and a lack of awareness among the population with regard to the use of new agricultural interventions, the cancer train will continue to transport patients from Punjab.


  • The first alarm was raised in the late 1980s when farmers in Jajjal noticed that peacocks had disappeared from fields

  • Studies have pointed to a link between the onset of cancer with unprotected & unregulated use of pesticides.

  • Of the top 15 pesticides used for pest-intensive cotton crop in Punjab, the US Environment Protection Agency considers seven as 'possible', 'likely', 'probable' or 'known' human carcinogens

  • There is heavy metal toxicity in groundwater & rivers

  • Oesophageal cancer, lymphoma and leukaemia are prevalent with uterine & breast cancer also prevalent among women

  • No government-led initiative to survey the region

  • 70 to 100 cancer patients travel to Bikaner every night

  • Doctors at Faridkot Medical College receive 30 to 35 new cancer cases daily.

Here is the documentry report prepared by Amanpreet Singh Mann regarding Cancer in Punjab

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Study by Punjab’s School of Public Health

A study done by Punjab’s School of Public Health titled, Epidemiological Study of High Cancer among Rural Agricultural Community of Punjab in Northern India, found a statistically significant increase in cancer rates in high-pesticide areas. However, the study also suggested that industrial pollution, tobacco use and other factors could cause the elevated cancer rates in addition to, or instead of, pesticides. While the root cause may be unclear, it is clear that a number of factors are at play in Punjab – one example being illiteracy.

No Treatment

Roko Cancer Initiative :From February 2010 to  September 2011 campaign has covered villages of Amritsar, Ludhiana, Mansa, Moga, Mukhtsar, Bathianda, Faridkot , Patiala, Firozepur, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Sangrur, Jalandhar, Kapurthala and Taran Taran Districts. People have to travel even up to Bikaner in Rajasthan to get treatment. This campaign has been a huge success in the state of Punjab, as more and more women are availing this doorstep facility and also this campaign is educating & spreading cancer awareness in every house of Punjab.

Subsidised treatment

The NGO is negotiating with institutions such as the Tata Cancer Research Institute, Mumbai, and the Oswal Cancer Hospital, Ludhiana, for providing subsidised treatment to those detected with breast cancer by the unit.

So far The NGO has launched a Rs. 1 crore India's first fully-equipped mobile breast cancer detection unit in Punjab. So far, 500 villages have been surveyed and, since December last through over 250 camps, 10,000 women had benefited.

Still More to Do

Despite repeated warnings from doctors and activists, governments are still dragging their feet. "Health is private business in Punjab and the rich farmers go to Delhi and Mumbai for treatment. Chandigarh's PGI and Faridkot's medical college are the only two state set-ups and even those are too expensive for the poor farmers. In every elections Political parties make many promise to tackle this issue but nothing is in action yet.

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  1. hello! i wanted to thank you for this great read!! i am definitely enjoying every little bit of it i have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.