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Cancer patients to wait for radiotherapy machine for a year

Patients suffering from cancer may have to wait a little longer to get a new cobalt 60 radiation machine after officials revealed that government hopes to have a new one in a period of at least one year from now.

Cobalt therapy or cobalt-60 therapy is the medical use of gamma rays from cobalt-60 to treat conditions such as cancer. It offers radiation therapy, which kills or damages cancer cells. It is used in more than half of all cancers.

Uganda’s only radiotherapy machine purchased in 1995 broke down for the last one month and over 33,000 cancer patients have been left stranded with many lacking financial muscle to seek the services abroad.

The cancer unit gets an estimated 44,000 new referrals annually from Uganda and other neighboring countries including Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan and 75% of these need radiotherapy.

According to the executive director for Uganda Cancer Institute-UCI, Dr. Jackson Orem the process of constructing a bunker that is supposed to house the new radiotherapy machine has taken the institute more than two years.

He says that this is because of  the complexities involved in building a bunker and regulations set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also known as  Atoms For Peace an international agency that regulates the sell and purchase of all radiation or nuclear emitting equipment .

The new radiotherapy equipment  was bought by IAEA on behalf of the government in 2013 and Uganda contributed  325, 297 euros while IAEA will cater for shipment, maintenance and train technicians who will operate it.

However, three years down the road, the machine could not be brought into Uganda because there is no bunker constructed to house it.

Dr. Orem says that after IAEA approving the soils on which the bunker will be built-a process that took two years, the institute is now in the process of identifying a company the is qualified to actually construct it. Already according to Orem, three companies have been shortlisted to do the job that is likely to take a minimum of 6 months if all resources are available and one year in case of delays.

However, according to the minister of health Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye the delay is already evident. He says that government is looking for over 30 billion shillings and so far the ministry has received only nine billion in the running financial and the 2016/2017 to build the bunker that is expected to house at least seven radiotherapy machines.

On a daily basis, the department receives about 100 cancer patients who need external exposure to radioactive waves to receive relief against cervical cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer and others organ cancers.

According to Orem, Ugandans should not be alarmed by the breakdown of the machine as there are other alternative ways of treatment.

He said that the institute has since acquired the Brachytherapy, or internal radiotherapy machine, that is commonly used to treat cervical, prostate, bladder, and breast and skin cancer through the temporary or permanent placement of a short range radiation source close to the tumor inside the body, positioning the radioactive pellet through a technique known as after loading.

However, according to one of the senior radiographers who spoke to URN off the record said that this machine only works on cancers that are at their first stages and yet many patients present themselves at Mulago when the cancers are at the last stages.

He adds that the two machines are supposed to be working together especially in cancers that presents late.

He said that in such circumstances, a patient has no option but to seek radiotherapy services from other countries.

Dr. Kavuma Ausi a senior Medical physician at Mulago says that it is very dangerous for a patient to miss radiotherapy because this leads to treatment failures if this process is missed which shortens their lifespan and the end result is death.

He says that people who are most affected are those who have cancers of the throat and pancreas.