Hope for cancer patients as Uganda gets new machine

Tuesday December 5 2017

Dr Awusi Kavuma, a radiographer, demonstrates

Dr Awusi Kavuma, a radiographer, demonstrates to journalists how the cancer machine operates at the Uganda Cancer Institute in Mulago, Kampala. PHOTO | RACHEL MABALA | NATION 

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Cancer treatment in Uganda is expected to improve with the installation of a Ush3 billion ($805,461) radiotherapy machine.

The Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) is now waiting for final certificates from the International Atomic Energy Agency before treatment can start in December.

The machine’s cost was shared between the government (90 per cent) and IAEA (10 per cent).
According to Dr Israel Luutu, a consultant radiation oncologist, with the machine, the treatment period will come down, allowing for more patients — a maximum of 100 per day — to be served.

Dr Luutu said the breakdown of the old machine in March 2016 resulted in a huge backlog, with doctors forced to change some patients’ treatment regimen from radiotherapy to chemotherapy or surgery.

Others were changed to palliative care. However, a public outcry saw the government make a deal with the Aga Khan Hospital for some patients to get radiotherapy services in Nairobi.

In addition to treating more patients, the cancer machine promises a reduction in the cost of treating cancer.

“The old machine used to break down and patients who would have come to Kampala ready for their treatment round would wait for weeks, all the while spending money on food and accommodation. Provision of timely radiotherapy services means the indirect costs will come down,” says Dr Luutu.

Improved diagnosis

Installation of the radiotherapy machine comes on the heels of an announcement by American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) to invest in improved diagnosis at UCI.
The Uganda Cancer Institute will be supported to implement a telepathology programme, in which doctors will employ technology to transfer images from distant locations for testing.
Currently, UCI is Uganda’s only cancer research and treatment centre. This, according to Dr Jackson Oryem, its director, contributes to the high mortality rate, as some patients arrive too late.

As a result, UCI is now planning to build four other regional centres across the country to improve the number of patients that receive diagnosis and treatment services.
But with telepathology services, doctors at the cancer institute will now have the ability to reach more patients.

In addition to telepathology for Uganda, ACS and ASCP will work with Novartis to provide immunohistochemistry analysis to hospitals in Ethiopia and Tanzania.