The old cancer machine, which handled more than 17,000 patients annually, broke down in March 2016.
PIC: Dr Kavuma Awusi, the senior medical physicist at the Uganda Cancer Institute (right), displaying the new cobalt radiotherapy machine in Mulago, Kampala recently. (Credit: Mary Kansiime)
HEALTH | CANCER
KAMPALA - The new cobalt 60 radiotherapy machine was commissioned at the Uganda Cancer Institute at Mulago on Friday.
However, there were calls for more cancer doctors in the country to effectively manage the disease whose incidences shot up by more than half in last decade.
The old cancer machine, which handled more than 17,000 patients annually, broke down in March 2016 after it had been installed more than 21 years ago.
Following the unprecedented crisis in cancer management in the country, the health ministry made an agreement with Aga Khan Hospital in Kenya so that patients screened and in need of radiotherapy could be rushed to the facility in Nairobi for treatment.
Aga Khan University Hospital agreed to treat 400 patients for free.
While commissioning the new machine, Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda said the restoration of radiotherapy services in Uganda "were indeed a major step" in the treatment of cancer in the country and a cause for celebration.
"It is not just the restoration of radiotherapy services. The machine is ultra, is an upgrade, and matches the latest technology for cancer treatment," he said.
Unlike the old machine, Dr Kavuma Awusi, a senior medical physicist at the institute said the new machine was highly sophisticated and computerised. He said it is adjustable to locate and treat cancer tumours.
It will improve the precision and efficiency with which treatment is offered, he said.
The old machine took 260 seconds to treat one patient. The new machine will require a maximum of 45 seconds.
According to Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the health minister, the new machine can treat more than 80 patients a day. She added that the services will be free.
The machine was procured from UJP Praha, a multi-technology company in Czech Republic, which deals in nuclear, industrial and medical equipment.
The machine cost €664,830 (about sh2.9b), with part of the money a contribution from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Health minister Ruth Aceng says the new machine can treat more than 80 patients a day
The machine was delivered at the Institute in August last year, upon completion of the bunker that would accommodate it.
It was then installed and has been undergoing tests before the commissioning.
According to Dr Jackson Orem, the executive director of the Uganda Cancer Institute, the commissioning of the new cancer machine gives hope to cancer patients in the country, who are referred to the institute for treatment.
Radiotherapy is the use of high energy radiation to treat cancer. Almost half of all patients with cancer have radiotherapy as part of their treatment.
But, Orem said the Institute and Uganda needed more cancer doctors, much as trainings (to increase the number) were underway.
He said the institute had 30 trained oncologists, but the number was strained compared to the ever increasing cancer incidents and disease burden in the country.
He said Uganda registered 320 new cancer cases in every 100,000 today, compared to 10 years ago, when it only registered 120 new cases per 100,000 persons.
Breast cancer in females and prostate in males are the commonest cancers in Uganda.
Dr Aceng said the ministry will continue training oncologists to ensure the country has enough experts to handle the disease.
The construction of additional bunkers at Mulago is also underway to make Uganda Cancer Institute the "East African centre of excellence" in cancer management.
On funding, Aceng said the institute was made an autonomous entity in 2014 so it can generate own funds while at the same time receiving money from the Government.