By Violet Nabatanzi, David Lumu and Raymond Baguma
The number of cancer patients in need of radiotherapy services at Mualgo National Referral Hospital is overwhelming, hospital authorities have said.
Christine Namulindwa, the public relations officer of Uganda Cancer Institute said, “The machine is overwhelmed when you consider the number of patients it serves. In Uganda, patients cannot go anywhere else.”
The cobalt machine, which is critical in administering radiotherapy to cancer patients, broke down on 14th July although it has since been repaired and services resumed, according to hospital authorities.
Dr. Israel Luutu, the acting head of the radiotherapy department said that about 80 cancer patients on chemotherapy were affected when the machine stopped working.
Dr. Luutu said that early Monday morning this week, the machine experienced what he called ‘mechanical problems’ after treating very few patients and services were suspended.
Richard Kavuma, who has a cancer patient posted on media, “My mum misses 3rd straight day of her radiotherapy treatment. Mulago machine down since Friday. Hurts!”
Namulindwa said that some patients seeking radiotherapy come from as far as Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania. The cobalt machine was installed at Mulago Hospital in 1995.
Dr. Luutu said that on average, the about 120 cancer patients receive radiotherapy on a daily basis at Mulago hospital.
Medical experts have severally raised concern about the steady rise in the number of Ugandans suffering from cancer. Cervical cancer is the commonest form of cancer among women followed by breast cancer.
The high incidence is blamed on the poor health seeking culture among Ugandans who often turn up late when the cancer is in advanced stages.
Last year, Dr Fred Okuku a consultant oncologist at Mulago said that in the last three years, the number of cancer patients shot up from 1,200 to 2,800 with over 60% of the patients presenting advanced cases of the diseases.
Dr. Luutu said, “We would need more than three radiotherapy machines because of the big number of patients.” He however could not provide the unit cost of each cobalt machine.
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