Mulago national referral hospital will have a second Cobalt 60 radiotherapy machine to treat cancer patients before the end of this year, Uganda Cancer Institute has announced.
According to Uganda Cancer Institute director, Jackson Orem, the second cancer machine expected to cost $3.5 million (about Shs 13 billion) will treat up 120 patients per day compared to the recently purchased machine that treats 80 patients per day. The country's only cancer machine was commissioned early this year in January after a two-year wait after the previous broke down in March 2016.
“We have already started a procurement process for the second cancer machine, identified the supplier and by the end of this year in December, we shall be having two cancer machines in the country,” said Orem.
Orem said this at the launch of the national cancer symposium (NCS) at the Uganda Cancer Institute on Monday whose main purpose is to create awareness about the ‘2017 world assembly cancer resolution’.
It also aimed at enabling all stakeholders engage in the fight against non-communicable diseases like cancer and make progress towards implementing national cancer control programmes.Orem said the second cancer machine has been manufactured by Varian Medical Systems, a leading manufacturing company based in the United States.
“We are now waiting for the supplier to ship the second cancer machine and we are expecting it to reach the country in June or July and installation starts at the new bunkers. By December the machine will be ready for use,” he said.
Orem said, the second machine will reduce on the burden and the load of patients currently using the country’s only available one machine. Uganda is a cancer treatment hub for many neighbouring East African countries including those from Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.The constitute 6 per cent of the total number of patients UCI handles.
“When it [second machine] arrives, we shall divide the number of patients into two so that they are treated by both machines and by 2020 all the six bunkers at UCI will have cancer machines,” Orem said.
UCI registers more than 7,000 new cases every year with revisits estimated at between 34,000 and 37,000 cases. Orem said recently said international standards recommend one radiotherapy machine to serve a population of 26,000 patients.
“So, with Uganda’s population of about 40 million, it means, if they are to use the formula of 1,000,000 people for one machine, we need 40 machines … just to have one at this point is a drop in the ocean. It may not be as gratifying as we would have wanted but the process is an indicator of the progress. We will also acquire another radiotherapy machine (linear accelerator) that is expected to improve on radiotherapy treatment…” he said.
Orem said, so far they have a total of 24 oncologists under training in different specialized areas such as Paediatric oncology, gynecological oncology, medical hematology oncology and others. All the oncologists are going to work on these machines to fight the burden of cancer in the country and the neighbouring areas.
Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said, as the world celebrated cancer day on February 4, they recognised cancer as global burden with 14 million new cases registered every year. The new cases are expected to rise to 15 million by 2020 and 60 per cent of these are from developing countries like Uganda.
“I have been told that the province of Manitoba in Canada with a population of 1.4 million, has 8 radiotherapy machines, while Uganda with a population of about 40 million has only one machine? Efforts are underway to acquire new radiotherapy machines in government and private institutions,” Rugunda said.
Cancer is one the three commonest causes of death globally, the other two are heart disease and accidents. In 2015 there were about 8.8 million deaths annually worldwide attributed to cancer - costing government’s and citizens about $ 1.16 trillion.
“Therefore the World Health Assembly (WHA) recommended four drivers that are likely to impact on cancer mortality which include early diagnosis programmes for cancer of cervix, breast, colorectal and oral cancer,” Rugunda said.
He said, in addition to early detection of cancer, there should be appropriate treatment including pain relief, and palliative care addressing not only prevention but also timely access to treatment.
The minister of Health Jane Aceng said, in 2015 in Uganda about 86,000 people died of cancer representing 80 per cent of those diagnosed with cancer, which was an alarming statistics in the country.
“ This gives an opportunity to ICU to mobilise resources and support both locally and internationally to raise its standards to provide state of the art cancer care, research and training,” she said.