Uganda: Cancer Patients Cry As Govt Okays Only Three to Nairobi

Contrary to government’s commitment to send 80 cancer patients to Aga Khan hospital in Nairobi, only three have been screened and given the nod to receive free treatment, writes ZURAH NAKABUGO.

In the aftermath of the breakdown of the only Cobalt-60 radiotherapy machine in the country, Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, the minister for Health, said last month that government would send 80 patients to Aga Khan hospital to receive free treatment.

This could have been aimed at calming public anger given that only three patients have benefitted. But Christine Namulindwa, the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) spokesperson, said doctors fully evaluated and recommended three patients for radiotherapy treatment.

“Most patients complaining about their non-referral to Nairobi were screened and found they would not benefit much from radiotherapy.

Namulindwa urged people not to overrate radiotherapy treatment because it is not the only cancer treatment. Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It can be particularly useful when cancer is found in places hard to reach surgically.

“Radiotherapy treatment comes in the late stages of cancer. But the first treatment for cancer is chemotherapy where a person takes drugs or injections to kill cancer cells and the second stage is surgery,” she said.

Namulindwa advised people to go for early cancer screening. She said even if government installs over 100 cancer treatment machines and people turn up with late stage cancer, they will die. She urged all people to go for cancer screening every Tuesday at UCI to get correct information about cancer.

AT UCI, PATIENTS NARRATE ORDEAL

Harriet Timugibwa, 55, from Wanyange village in Jinja district, is among hundreds of cancer patients hoping for referral to Aga Khan hospital. Timugibwa, who suffers from breast cancer, claims she has not been helped much at UCI since she came for treatment.

“I came here in January but the drugs prescribed for me are too expensive yet I always feel headache. But before the breakdown of the radiotherapy machine, it used to relieve my pain,” she said.

Timugibwa, who sleeps on the floor in a shelter at UCI, says she has borrowed a lot of money from relatives and friends to buy some drugs but nobody is willing to give her money since government promised to take them to Nairobi for better treatment.

“Almost every week, I buy drugs of more than Shs 250,000 and I can’t survive without them. I’m now going to die because I have run out of money and I don’t know whether I’m going to Nairobi or not,” she said.

Patrick Mangere, a rectal cancer patient, said he attended UCI in January and his condition has not improved. He is also hoping to be taken to Nairobi.

“I used to go in for radiotherapy but now that the machine broke down, I have not got any treatment and can’t buy the expensive drugs prescribed to me. I don’t have control over my stool and urine,” he said.

Fulugencia Nabwami, 31, from Masaka, said she has been at UCI since the April Easter holiday when she was diagnosed with throat cancer. She was operated on twice and now cannot speak without a voice-box string placed around her neck.

“I have used a lot of money to buy drugs and right now I have been prescribed to buy drugs worth Shs 240,000 from Wandegeya yet I don’t have money. My cancer stage is in grade one stage, which doctors said, they will recommend us to Nairobi for treatment, but I’m in pain. Who are those going and when?” she asked.

Nabwami asked government and civil society organizations to assist cancer patients like they do to people with HIV/Aids and Heart problems. James Senzira, 37, got cancer after his tooth was removed badly and after two surgical operations, the wound failed to heal. He now has a swollen wound on his cheek and awaits referral to Nairobi.

“I was using the radiotherapy machine before it collapsed, but I’m now too weak since I’m surviving only on painkillers,” he said.

Mesach Muyambi, who has camped at UCI for two weeks, battles cancer of the eyes and ears. He said he has no money to buy the drugs of Shs 240,000 per week.

“I don’t think I’m on the list of people going to Nairobi because my cancer stage is in grade one or early stages,” he said.

Source: The Observer.