Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rise in Cancer Deaths in Kashmir

Massive adulteration in food supply is leading to alarming rise in cancer deaths. On the other hand improved lifestyle is reducing "kangri cancers." Two reporta

Top 10 Cancers Afflict Valley

Nazir Ganaie

Srinagar: One of the most dreaded diseases, cancer, is emerging as a leading killer worldwide and Kashmir is no exception. Over the years, the Valley has witnessed an alarming surge in cancer cases, putting a huge question mark on the already ailing health sector of the state.

According to the Regional Cancer Centre at the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) here, the number of registered patients has jumped from 2097 in 2007 to 3057 in 2011. The Centre witnesses a heavy rush with nearly 35,000 older cases that doctors call follow-ups, visiting it for various kinds of therapies.

The data available with the SKIMS Centre reveals that cancer patients registered for 2007 were 2,097, in 2008 the number was 2,465, and in 2009, it was 2,968. However the patient influx recorded a sharp decline in 2010 at 2,623 only but in 2011 it went up again to 3,057. Even as cancer cases in far flung areas go unreported, the 2010 decline has been attributed to the unrest in valley that year

According to experts, the top 10 cancers afflicting the Valley are Esophagus (cancer of food pipe), Lung cancer, Stomach, Colon (large intestine cancers), Breast, Brain, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Gastro Esophageal, Junction cancer (cancer between the stomach and food pipe), Ovary and Skin cancers.

Expressing serious concern, experts said the cancer mortality rate among Kashmiris had increased due to some leading behavioral and dietary risks, including high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and lack of regular check-up. They claimed the changing life style and food habits among the Valleyites had caused surge in all the cancers especially in Esophagus, Colon and Breast cancers.

“Yes, there is an alarming increase in cancers in Kashmir,” director, RCC, and head Department of Radiation Oncology, Dr Muhammad Maqbool Lone, told Kashmir Observer. The Centre maintains records of patients. He said the patients had been coming from all parts of the state, including Ladakh, Doda, Kishtwar, Bhaderwah and even from Jammu.

“We receive peculiar type of cases relatively different from those in rest of India because of geographic, socio-economic and religious factors. Tobacco use is theleading cancer risk factor at the global level causing 71 per cent of lung cancer death. In Kashmir, the situation is very grim with the highest number of lung cancer cases, which is increasing alarmingly.”

However, Dr Lone said, Islam provided for some inherent practices which go a long way in minimizing chances of cancer. He made a particular mention of circumcision and the ablution ahead of mandatory prayers, something which has been acknowledged at the global level through scientific research.

Pertinently cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases that can affect any part of the body. Other terms used are malignant tumors and neoplasm. One defining feature of cancer is the rapid creation of abnormal cells that grow beyond their usual boundaries, which invade adjoining parts of the body and spread to other organs. This process is referred to as metastasis, a major cause of cancer death.

The experts attributed the rise in cancer cases to intake of spicy food, changing dietary habits and consumption of bulk of contaminated food items available in the market.

“These things can make this disease more fatal in Kashmir. Whenever a patient develops any symptom, he should immediately report to the hospital,” said SMHS registrar, Dr Masood Ahmad.

“Reportedly there is massive adulteration in mass consumption food items which kills people slowly. We have seen an increasing number of patients complaining of food poisoning, gastric troubles and other problems. Any delay in detection of the cancer can prove fatal,” SKIMS director and noted gastroenterologist, Dr Showkat Ahmad Zargar, told Kashmir Observer.

“Lung, stomach, liver, colon and breast cancer cause most cancer deaths every year in the world. The situation in Kashmir is no different,” Dr Zargar said.

The experts said that early check-ups and adoption of preventive strategies can reduce the risk. Acquisition of knowledge about its causes and intervention to preventand manage the disease is the need of the hour. Evidence-based strategies for cancer prevention and early detection and management of the disease can go a long way in reducing the incidence of the dreaded disease.

“Many cancers have a high chance of cure if detected early and treated adequately,” said head, Radiation and Oncology Centre, SMHS, Dr Sanaullah Kuchay, adding that cancer deaths could be prevented by modifying or avoiding key risk factors, including tobacco use, obesity, unhealthy diet with low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity alcohol use, sexually-transmitted HIV-infection, urban air pollution and indoor smoke from household use of solid fuels.

“Vaccinate against human papilloma virus (HPV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV), reduce exposure to sunlight, early detection. Cancer mortality can be reduced if cases are detected and treated early,” he said.

However, according to experts, a massive awareness campaign is needed for early detection of symptoms (for cancer types such as cervical, breast colorectal and oral) to get them diagnosed and treated early before the disease enters an advanced stage. They alleged early diagnosis programs were particularly relevant in low-resource settings where majority of patients were diagnosed very late.

“Screening and cancer detection camps are seldom organized in far off areas. Research is the worst hit; doctors don’t get time while the authorities never emphasizeits need and, in the process, quality patient-care gets affected,” said a senior professor of Oncology at SKIMS, wishing anonymity. He accused the directorate of Health Services of virtually doing nothing to create awareness about cancer among the people or to provide for some preliminary diagnostic facilities at various healthcare institutions.

Kangri Cancer On Decline In Kashmir

Nazir Ganaie

Srinagar: Even as the Kashmir valley has witnessed an alarming surge in the incidence of various types of cancers over the recent years, the ‘Kangri cancer’ cases have shown a marked decline due to changing lifestyles.

Experts say the reliance on modern heating appliances and ‘increasing awareness among the people’ has resulted in the decline in number of cancers caused by Kangri (traditional earthen firepot.)

People in Kashmir widely use 'Kangri' to keep themselves warm during winter, when the mercury stays below freezing point. This portable firepot, which the natives clutch to their chests and bellies under their pherans (loose traditional cloaks), is filled with embers and ash dust, woven around with fine wicker that also provides its base and an ingeniously-designed overhead handle-and-cage for carriage and safety.

However, the use of this traditional device has led to hundreds of cancer cases.

According to the Regional Cancer Centre at the S-K Institute of Medical Sciences here, the number of 'Kangri cancer' cases has registered a considerable declineover the years The experts attribute the phenomenon to the increasing use of modern heating appliances, and growing health consciousness among the people.

However, the Centre has witnessed a heavy rush with nearly 35,000 older general cancer cases that doctors call follow-ups, visiting it for various kinds of therapies.

“Kangri cancer is peculiar with the Kashmir valley. It is a form of skin cancer and about a decade ago it accounted for 50 per cent of cancer cases we treated. But now it is on a decline,” director, RCC and head of the Department of Radiation Oncology, SKIMS, Dr Muhammad Maqbool Lone, told Kashmir Observer.

For decades, Kangri has been an integral part of every Kashmiri household with almost the entire population in the Valley relying on it for heating. The major cause ofKangri cancer is the long exposure to heat.

“Researchers have found that it is caused by long exposure to heat. It is more prominent in the economically-backward strata of the society. People from villages and far-flung areas, who do not have access to modern heating appliances, are the most affected,” Dr Lone said.

Kangri cancer mostly targets the thighs, abdomen and abdominal walls - the areas of the body which are more prone and close to the heat of the kangri. If not cured in time, it can affect other body parts, he said.

Doctors say the increasing awareness and improvement in living standards of the people are the major reasons for the decline in kangri cancer incidence.

“We cannot tell people from far-flung areas or those who are not financially well off not to use kangri, because they cannot afford other heating sources in winter and you have recurrent power cuts in Kashmir. But we counsel them about its judicious use,” said Dr Lone.

“Even as Kangri cancer has shown a sharp decline, every cancer has a high chance of cure if detected early and treated adequately,” said head, Radiation and Oncology Centre, SMHS Hospital, Dr Sanaullah Kuchay,

“People should be sensitized about every cancer and educated about its risks,” he added.

The Cancer Society of Kashmir, a non-governmental organization, which works in the Valley to create awareness about the disease, also admits that the number of Kangri cancer cases had declined considerably.

“The number of new cases (of kangri cancer) has declined over the years because people have limited the use of kangris and awareness has been created about it,”CSK chairman, Dr Showkat Ahmad Zargar, told Kashmir Observer.

Interestingly, while the declining use of kangris has resulted in a sharp decline in cancer incidence, it has affected the livelihood of a large number of artisans. The kangri has gone aristocratic and out-of-reach for the masses. The sale of kangris over the years has dropped by 30 to 40 per cent with the introduction of electricity, LPG and kerosene heaters.

“Life is moving very fast and so does the change of our lifestyles. Modern electric appliances have taken over the traditional Kangri. I have stopped using it due to several reasons, Preparation of a kangri for use is a cumbersome process for women in the household resulting in respiratory problems,” said Ali Muhammad Shah of central Kashmir’s Budgam district, adding there were instances where kangris had led to fire hazards across the Valley.

Pertinently, Sultan Zain-ul-Aabideen Budshah, a 15th century Kashmiri potentate known for humane policies, is believed to have introduced kangri and pheran as the locals’ defense against harsh winters– and have yet to be dislodged by the sub-continent’s ‘modernization.’

(Observer News Service)

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