On 9th April, Uganda Women’s Cancer Support Organization (UWOCASO) petitioned the Speaker Rt. Honorable Rebecca Kadaga on the plight of cancer patients in the Country. This came in the wake of the death of three renowned journalists in the country over a short time span. Social media was awash with condolence messages and anger. I wonder if this is what it had to get to for the masses to get riled up about this imperative but not so widely recognized killer disease.
Some of the grievances addressed in the petition presented are : there is one cancer treatment center (Uganda Cancer Institute) with limited capacity and yet it serves people from all over the great lakes region : Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, and Western Kenya as well as Uganda. The same institution has one cobalt radiotherapy equipment in the one outpatient clinic at Old Mulago, yet cobalt machines have been banned worldwide because they are dangerous to human health. They emphasized that there are 2000 new cases at the institute per year and that is only 4 % of the cancers in the country.
The petition appealed to the government of Uganda for its committed support to cancer control and management services in the country. In the Uganda Cancer Institute Annual Report 2010-2011, the rise in cancer cases to epidemic levels is attributed to the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of Ugandans and consumption of foods and products which predispose the population to cancer. In addition infection related cancers such as Hepatitis B, HIV/Aids, HPV (Human papilloma virus) account for 60 per cent of all cancers as well as include the Burkitt Lymphoma, which accounts for most of the pediatric cancer deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.
We however should not be resigned to the notion that we are doomed to the fate of cancer as yet, efforts by the Government coupled with those of Parliament will hopefully put cancer into management and control. The 2015/16 Ministerial policy statement indicates an increment to the Cancer Institute’s budget from UGX 8.7 billion to UGX 15.6 billion from, cancer treatment has also been subsidized.
The new cancer ward has also been completed, UCI/HCCA is a 25,000 square foot, state-of-the-art research and training facility slated to open this year, the new facility will include an outpatient clinic, chemotherapy infusion rooms, research laboratories, molecular diagnostics labs, a specimen repository, a training center, a library and a data center. The cancer center that can treat up to 20,000 patients a year given the right resources both human and financial. This makes Uganda’s dream to become the center of excellence for cancer treatment in the region not so farfetched. The in the increase development allocation d will also kick start the operationalization of the new ward.
In addition to funding from the African Development Bank will be received in the next financial year to set up the East African center of excellence in skills development and tertiary education in bio-medical sciences, research focusing on understanding the biology of infection-related cancers with the goal of improving prevention and treatment in low-resource settings will also be carried out at the institute. Currently 40 studies investigating five types of cancer, Kaposi sarcoma, non-Hodgkin lymphomas, including Burkitt lymphoma, cervical cancer, breast cancer and Hodgkin lymphomas and four viruses (HIV, human herpes and simplex viruses and Epstein-Barr virus). More than 7,000 Ugandans have participated in the studies.
With support from National Institutes of Health training grants, Ugandans are being trained in multiple disciplines that are critical to conducting cancer research and providing standardized, safe and effective cancer care. These include oncology, nursing, data management and fiscal management. The training intends to cultivate the next generation of Ugandan oncologists and infectious-disease researchers. Over the years, 300 Ugandan scientists and 50 Ugandan doctors, including 8 oncologists have received training at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center . However, now that we have one of a kind in our backyard hopefully we can make use of it and see change in the treatment of cancer.
Clinical care at UCI will be improved through the addition of chemistry/hematology, histology, immunology, biosafety level 2+ and molecular diagnostics labs and more effective and timely tracking of patients. The use of resource-appropriate guidelines for clinical care and clinical trials will also lead to better outcomes for patients.
We all know that tobacco use accounts for most of the lung cancer cases in the world, legislation on the Tobacco Control Bill 2014 is also ongoing. The bill whose main intent is to protect the present and future generations from devastating health, social, economic and environmental consequences of tobacco use and exposure among others is awaiting its second reading on the floor of parliament. The proposed Excise Bill Duty Amendment Bill 2015 also seeks to review the tax on soft cap cigarettes from UGX 35,000 to UGX 45,000 and the hinge lid from UGX 69,000 to Ugx 75,000 intended to discourage the consumption by new users and reduce current consumption.
Limited cancer awareness in the country has been cited as one of the causes of late cancer presentation in most patience and consequential increased fatalities, government and civil society organizations have embarked on comprehensive cancer awareness programmes involving churches, schools mosques and other public places
These are just a few of the efforts being made in the fight against cancer in Uganda. All we should hope for is the actual functionality of these institutions