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Mulago lacks radiotherapy machine for infants

By Carol Kasujja

Added 29th January 2020 08:36 AM

Families with children in need of radiotherapy services are struggling to access services at the Uganda Cancer Institute.

Mulago lacks radiotherapy machine for infants

Families with children in need of radiotherapy services are struggling to access services at the Uganda Cancer Institute.


KAMPALA - Families with children in need of radiotherapy services are struggling to access services at the Uganda Cancer Institute which are not available at the facility.

Dr Joyce Balagadde Kambugu, a paediatric oncologist and also the head of Paediatric Oncology Services at Uganda Cancer Institute, said it is painful to treat a child with cancer when you know there is no cure. 

"We are in the process of acquiring one radiotherapy machine for children but what we have now is not robust for children. If we use it on children, you cause more harm, you affect other nearby organs in the process. For children, you need a machine that radiates a small place because they have small organs, there is no way you can use radiotherapy and fail to affect other organs," Kambugu said.

The therapy uses rays, which are directed to the masses or tumours to disrupt the growth signals by heating up the DNA in the cancer cells, thus disrupting their growth. The machine moves around the body without touching the patient and aims radiation at cancer.

Kambugu also noted that parents come late to the facility when the cancer is in its stages. She encouraged parents to visit the facility because now they have the capacity to diagnosis the disease early. 

She cited leukaemia or blood cancer, Burkitt lymphoma which affects the lymphatic system, kidney cancer and bone tumours as some of the common cancer types in children. In 2018, they were 482 children with cancers.

She made the remarks at Protea Hotel on Wednesday during the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Uganda Cancer Institute and the University of Cambridge.

The agreement which has now built a solid partnership between the two institutions is meant to bringing together academics, researchers, clinicians, and wider society to understand and propose solutions to the most pressing challenges in cancer and global health.

Current statistics from UCI indicate that all cancers are on the rise, and deaths continue to occur. Each year, about 22,000 deaths occur in the country due to cancer. In addition, the risk of cancer before the age of 65 years is 10 per cent, and in the next five years, it is estimated that there will be 80,000 cancer cases in the country at any one time.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Jackson Orem, the Uganda Cancer Institute Director, noted that for effective cancer care, research is key as it enables to identify causes and develop strategies for prevention.

"By working with Cambridge, UCI has a lot to gain through harnessing the immense capacity in cancer science and applied research in prevention, early detection and diagnosis, as well as an effective treatment," said Dr Jackson Orem.

Orem noted that they are targeting young people to carry on the research as for them they are ageing.

In his message, Prof Greg Hannon, a cancer researcher at the University of Cambridge said that together with the Cancer Institute there is an even greater breadth of knowledge

"Cambridge is a world-leading city for cancer research and the Uganda Cancer Institute is a Centre of Excellence for the whole East Africa region. We shall share our expertise but also to benefit from their experience and knowledge in order to end death and diseases caused by cancer," Hannon noted. 

The Cancer Research programme in world-class cancer research laboratories every year for three years will train Ugandan Students in cancer research.


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