By Duncan Abigaba
On Thursday last week, the President flanked by the United States officials and other dignitaries officially opened the UCI-Fred Hutchinson Cancer Centre in Mulago.
The new facility is a partnership between Uganda Cancer Institute and the US based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre. The $10m facility will treat up to 20,000 patients every year and will serve as a regional centre for training and management of cancer.
The Fred Hutchinson cancer research centre named after Fred Hutch, a researcher who pioneered borne marrow transplant leading to immunotherapy, houses the first and largest cancer prevention research programme in the United States.
The state of the art facility houses an adult and pediatric out-patient clinic, research and training centres, laboratories, conference rooms and a pharmacy.
On top of that, the facility has also been chosen by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to host the Secretariat of a global virtual university that will train cancer specialists. It is the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa and it will handle referral cases for diagnosis and management of cancer.
The facility has also acquired a new cobalt 60 machine worth 1.7b from the International Atomic Energy Agency that can treat averagely 30 patients a day.
The only existing new cobalt 60 machine had worn out and could attend to only 12 patients a day. This brings the number of patients that can be treated in a day to 42, up from 12.
According to statistics from the ministry of health, 200 Ugandans out of every100,000 are living with at least one form of cancer; majorly prostrate and cervical cancer. Out of these, 90% are diagonised late. Majority of these cancers are caused by infectious diseases. In Uganda, six out of ten cases of cancer are caused by infectious diseases. These diseases include; HIV/AIDS, diabetes, Hepatitis and heart diseases. For example, one out three cancer cases is an HIV patient. Largely, some of these diseases are life style diseases and can be prevented by individual personal administration.
However, there is also need by ministry of health to intensify awareness campaign about these infections and how the populace can prevent them. Interestingly, some of the cases like cervical and liver cancer which claimed my paternal uncle in 2013 are immunisable.
Apparently, cancer kills more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
The Uganda Cancer Institute had established itself as a regional treatment centre. As such, the facility has been receiving patients especially with cervical cases from Kenya, South Sudan and DRC because the services have been relatively cheaper.
Of course, it is regrettable that the institute has been facing some challenges including financing which has hindered it from acquiring all the relevant equipment. This has cost us some precious lives notably the celebrated TV personalities Bbale Francis and Rosemary Nankabirwa. May their souls rest in eternal peace.
However, like the US Ambassador put it, although the government lacks resources to meet all the health challenges, the political will to address them is visible.
In conclusion, the Uganda Cancer Institute is slated to become the East African centre for cancer treatment and management. This provides the greatest hope to the patients. Even those without money to fly to Aghakan Hospital in Narobi or India will still access services at our institute in Mulago.
The writer is a deputy Presidential Assistant in charge of Research and Information
The new cancer facility is a beacon of hope