Thousands of seriously ill people will suffer unless a new machine is commissioned “as a matter of urgency”
Uganda’s main palliative care service provider and the nation’s coordinating body which promotes the development of palliative care today (Wednesday 13 April 2016) called on the Government to do all in its power to ensure a new radiotherapy machine is commissioned for the country as “a matter of urgency”.
Hospice Africa Uganda (HAU), a not-for-profit charity whose vision is that palliative care reaches all in need in Africa, and the Palliative Care Association of Uganda, (PCAU), said thousands of seriously ill people will suffer distress, pain and uncontrolled symptoms unless they can access essential radiotherapy treatment.
It was confirmed this week that Uganda's only radiotherapy machine has broken beyond repair. It was used for treating thousands of cancer patients every year at Mulago Hospital in Kampala.
The Acting Chief Executive Director of HAU, Dr Eddie Mwebesa, said today: “On behalf of cancer patients all over Uganda and beyond we are appealing to the Government to put in place all the resources necessary to ensure that radiotherapy of a high standard can resume as soon as possible.”
He said news that the radiotherapy machine is broken beyond repair has been received with much sadness by HAU’s patients who were due to receive treatment.
“The breakdown of the machine is especially devastating for women with cancer of the cervix, the commonest cancer seen at Hospice Africa Uganda. Many of our patients have advanced cases of this cancer with severe pain and bleeding. Radiotherapy can help stabilise those symptoms and the loss of our machine means suffering will increase among our women and many may die sooner”.
He said patients with bone, breast and prostate cancer will also be affected.
“One of our patients, a 29-year-old woman with cervical cancer, was in hospice yesterday in a distressed state due to the cancellation of her radiotherapy treatment. She travelled from her home in Mbarara to Mulago Hospital in the middle of March for radiotherapy. She has a lot of bleeding and discharge and is in some pain. She now has to go home not knowing when in the future she will get the treatment she urgently needs. What we can do is ensure she receives good palliative care. She is just one of many.”
Dr Mwebesa said that HAU has received several inquiries across its sites in Kampala, Mbarara and Hoima this week from patients and the general public expressing concern at the situation.
“This is a human issue and as the leaders in Palliative Care in Uganda we along with PCAU are now adding our collective concern. It is our duty to speak out on behalf of the very sick and vulnerable. This needs to be treated as a national emergency.”
Ms Rose Kiwanuka, Country Director for PCAU said: “We join with HAU in appealing to the Government to take urgent action to ensure that patients don’t suffer.
“The breakdown of the radiotherapy machine has also raised much concern for Palliative Care practitioners. Without radiotherapy we can expect that more patients will be in pain. This machine has been serving the entire country and patients travel very long distances to the capital to get radiotherapy. Its breakdown poses severe challenges to patients and the government acting quickly to resume radiotherapy will be much appreciated by patients”.
The pioneer of palliative care in Africa and Hospice Africa Uganda founder, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Anne Merriman said: “Palliative care will give palliation with pain control and holistic support within our specialty - but we cannot replace a radiotherapy machine for control of severe bleeding and rapid advance and deterioration.
“According to WHO all cancer patients should have palliative care from diagnosis but this does not happen in Africa due to poverty of health and other services. So on behalf of our suffering patients, I add my personal voice to those begging our Government to put in all that is necessary so that radiotherapy, of high standard, can be in place as soon as possible. My plea also goes to donors to assist in this so that the bunker is in place in a much shorter time.”
Above is a Hospice Africa Uganda patient who has cervical cancer is one of hundreds who are affected by the breakdown of the radiotherapy machine at Mulago Hospital