By John Agaba and Violet Nabatanzi
MULAGO Hospital is fast-tracking the use of nuclear medicine for faster diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Dr. Zeridah Muyinda, a consultant radiologist at the country’s largest referral hospital, said they are equipping local physicians with latest techniques in the use of nuclear medicine, an intervention that seeks to help detect the spread of cancer in patients faster.
Dr. Asuman Lukwago, the health ministry permanent secretary, said the patient turnover requiring nuclear medicine services in Uganda health facilities was overwhelming and there is an urgent need for expansion and consolidation of the nuclear medicine units.
This was during a regional training on the use of nuclear medicine as an alternative in disease diagnosis and treatment at Fairway Hotel in Kampala on Tuesday.
The three-day training exercise is targeting health experts from 15 African countries.
Lukwago said the government had already allocated space for construction of modern nuclear medicine and radiotherapy units and was going to recruit and train the required human resource for the new units.
He, however, did not make mention of the new units they were going to construct or the number of the personnel they were going to recruit and train to fill them.
In Uganda, there is only one Radiotherapy and Nuclear Medicine Unit serving over the 34 million people.
Muyinda said nuclear medicine was unrivaled in terms of accuracy particularly when examining the extent the cancer has spread.
“It (nuclear medicine) is complementary. But it is very effective when we are determining the extent the cancer has spread,” said Muyinda.
“If, for example, a patient has thyroid cancer and you want to determine the extent the disease has spread, you can use nuclear medicine. You use particular radiopharmaceuticals. These are given to patients and they go to the blood. From what they show, you can tell the body parts the disease has spread to. It is a one body scan,” she said.
“It is also good in stress fractures that cannot be picked by X-ray scans,” added Muyinda.
“We want to create awareness in both the health workers and the public and train the physicians in these new technologies of nuclear medicine.”
In the training at Fairway Hotel, there were 27 Ugandan Physicians. The rest 23 were from other African countries.
Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, the state minister for health (general duties) commended the innovation saying it was a great step towards enhancing health care delivery to targeted beneficiaries in Uganda.
He thanked International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for their contribution towards promotion of peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology for social economic development.
Tumwesigye said Uganda ratified the additional protocols committing to the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons in 2006, and passed the Atomic Law, regulating the use of Atomic Energy, in 2008.
He said that Atomic Energy or Ionising radiation use in Uganda was limited to areas like disease diagnosis and treatment of cancers, among others.
“Although nuclear science and technology has contributed to improvements of livelihood globally, its application equipment, if not properly regulated, may result in serious health consequences,” warned Tumwesigye.
According to the health ministry, there are about 29,380 cancer cases registered in Uganda annually, with cervix and prostate cancers being the commonest among women and men respectively.
Peter Kiondo, a senior radio-pharmacist at the nuclear medicine unit said many cancer patients come to the facility when the disease is in advanced stage.
He revealed the cost of treating thyroid cancer can go for up to $1, 265 (approximately sh3m) while the cost of diagnosing prostate and breast cancer can go up to sh200,000.
Tumwesigye said that the government also intends to investigate the feasibility of nuclear power generation program as part of the future energy mix, in view of the growing energy demand and limited potentials of fossil fuels and renewable energy sources.
He said Uganda has been a member state of the IAEA since 1967.