Thiruvananthapuram : Kerala on Friday became the first state in India to launch a project providing free cancer treatment to the poor.

The project called ‘Sukrutham’ was launched by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy here in the evening. Modeled on the lines of ‘Karunya Benevolent Fund’ implemented with income from a lottery, the cancer programme will draw on voluntary contributions from mobile phone subscribers, corporates, public sector undertakings and rich individuals.

The lottery-linked ‘Karunya Benevolent Fund’ introduced soon after the assumption of office by the United Democratic Front (UDF) government in May 2011 has provided financial assistance worth Rs.228 crores to 27,275 people till December 2013.

Under ‘Sukrutham’, cancer patients below the poverty line will be given free treatment at Regional Cancer Centre, Thiruvananthapuram; Malabar Cancer Centre; medical college hospitals in Thiruvananthappuram, Alappuzha, Kottayam and Kozhikode and Ernakulam General Hospital.

The Chief Minister said that the government had conceived the project as many people could not afford the escalating cost of cancer treatment. There is ceiling to the financial assistance provided through various state and central schemes. Those who are not getting the benefit through these projects will come under the Sukrutham project.

A Cancer Care Society had been formed with the Chief Minister as the chairman and Health Minister as vice-chairman to monitor the programme. The number of new cancer cases in Kerala is estimated at 50,000. The number of people seeking cancer treatment annually in the state is estimated at 100, 000.

Free treatment to these people will cost the exchequer about Rs.320 crores every year. Experts are doubtful whether the revenue model proposed by the government will generate enough funds to carry the programme forward.

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Free Press Journal