By Cyprian Musoke
KAMPALA - Cancer sufferers in Uganda might not have to incur hefty costs on treatment abroad anymore, as Cabinet has approved a Bill granting the Uganda Cancer Institute autonomy to get own foreign funding to operate at world-class standards.
Previously, it had to access such funding only through the department of Medicine in Mulago, after it was down-graded to unit level following the 1970’s and 80’s political turmoil.
In Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, Health Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda pitched for the centre’s autonomy, arguing that the new status will enable it acquire modern equipment, pay and retain experts which have been some of the major impediments to its full operation.
Addressing the press at the media centre yesterday, Information and National guidance minister Rosemary Namayanja said that the funding, most of which was impeded by lack of a framework, will be a much needed shot-in-the arm given Uganda’s contribution to cancer research in Africa.
“The political turmoil negatively affected the institute causing withdrawal of both internal and external funding, hence downgrading to unit level under the department of medicine.
"It is against that backdrop that cabinet approved the principles of the Uganda Cancer Institute Bill 2014 in order to re-establish it as a centre of excellence offering comprehensive cancer services, reduce referrals abroad by developing local capacity and infrastructure, and make it an autonomous body by an Act of Parliament,” Namayanja said.
The Institute will have an executive management committee headed by the Executive Director, a Deputy and a Board appointed by the Minister of Health.
A cancer-testing bus, courtesy of the Uganda Cancer Institute, on a bus tour in 2009
The Board will manage its properties and assets, appoint or dismiss employees on the advice of the Health service Commission, and to carry out all acts provided for in the Act for the expedient and proper performance of the Institute.
“Uganda has greatly contributed to cancer research and knowledge more than any country in Africa. This is due to its long history of research which discovered Burkitts Lymphomia and Ebstein Barr virus (named after its discoverers) in Mulago in 1958 and 1964 respectively.”
“At that time when it was widely believed that cancer can only be treated by surgery and radiotherapy, a ground breaking research in Mulago discovered that cancer could be treated by drugs,” Namayanja quoted the paper.
These developments, she added, led to the establishment of the institute in 1967 as an international cancer research centre through collaborations with the United States of America’s National Cancer Institute (NCI).
“It is suffice to note the ground breaking scientific discoveries that were made by the Institute like the method of using drugs in combinations, use of chemotherapy without radiotherapy, preventing complication of cancer treatment by simply ensuring that patients are well hydrated and many others,” Namayanja said.
This, she added, made the institute a Premier cancer clinical care centre in Africa attracting researchers from all over the world while providing world class standard services, all of which was reversed by the 1970’s and 80’s political turmoil.
The Wednesday cabinet, she added, instructed the minister to take the principles of the Bill to the first Legal Counsel of Parliament for legal drafting.
Namayanja also spoke about the cabinet directive stating that all titles in wetlands on public land acquired unlawfully after 1995 should be cancelled.
Cabinet also directed that land titles on critical ecosystems especially those on the 200m lake shore protection zone should be cancelled and any claims for compensation or relocation of people should be critically evaluated.