12 Months Later, Only 80 Cancer Patients taken to Nairobi

SUMMARY: When the cancer machine broke down in March 2016, more about government announced plans to take 400 patients to Aga Khan Hospital, physician Nairobi. By March 2017 only 85 patients have been taken and received treatment from Aga Khan. Patients are footing their own transport costs and accommodation bills.

In March 2016, Cobalt 60, the singular radiotherapy cancer treatment machine at Mulago National Referral Hospital that handles 17,000 patients annually broke down.

Repairing the machine was ruled out owing to its wear. According to experts, the machine that uses nuclear energy would still remain dangerous to both the patients and also people nearby.

The government through Uganda Cancer Institute that is under the Health Ministry docket started a process of constructing a new bunker to accommodate a new machine and the whole process was to take a full year.

The only three available options were to put cancer patients on morphine drugs (painkillers), palliative (comforting) care and those badly off, (which is the majority since most patients usually seek help too late), were to be flown to Nairobi for radiotherapy treatment.

On 7th April 2016, the State Minister of Health, Dr. Chris Baryomunsi said on the floor of Parliament that the government had finalized on an emergency plan to “immediately” take 400 patients to Aga Khan University Hospital.

“The Aga Khan Hospital has offered to treat 400 patients and we are immediately going to arrange transport and accommodation for patients who need radiotherapy treatment,” he said.

Indeed, in the same period the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Aga Khan to implement the arrangement.

The latest data however, exclusively obtained by this website indicates that only 85 patients have managed to reach Nairobi and are meeting their own costs even when the government had promised to help.

After the Aga Khan’s offer, a body known as Radiation Oncology Clinical Needs Evaluation Committee (ROCNEC) was put in place to guide the implementation, direction and evaluation of Health Ministry’s interim plan for treating cancer patients in Nairobi.

The role of the ROCNEC is to screen the badly off patients who require external beam radiotherapy (EBRT).

The body has so far screened 200 patients according to the document made for internal purposes at Health Ministry.

“200 patients who need radiotherapy have been screened and approved for treatment in Nairobi by the developed referral methodology,” part of the report reads.

115 patients of the screened patients are yet to reach Nairobi since the arrangement is being conducted in phases.

“85 patients have been transferred to Aga Khan Nairobi. Most patients have been privately sponsored for transport, accommodation and meals but their treatment given under the existing government arrangement,” another part of the report said.

Several relatives of the cancer patients who talked to this reporter said there are many who badly require treatment in Nairobi but they cannot afford the associated cost.

“There are very many patients here in need of radiotherapy (treatment) but they don’t have the needed facilitation to get to Nairobi. To get there one needs to have funds for meals, accommodation, moving around Nairobi for at least two months,” one cancer patient helper who asked not to be named fearing reprimand said.

When contacted, Minister Baryomunsi said it is not compulsory for all cancer patients to undergo radiotherapy treatment but other measures are already being administered.

“Majority of patients are already being managed in Mulago and on daily or hourly basis. It is not a must that all cancer patients should get radiotherapy treatment,” he said.

He added that those being taken are the ones clinically found to be in need.

“We are only referring to Nairobi those clinically approved by the team put in place by the government.”

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