Many Ugandans are scared about the rising cases of cancer killing their loved ones. But many will be equally alarmed to find out that we have an alarming shortage of cancer experts in the country.
For a population of 34.6million people and growing rapidly, or cancer experts thanks in part to brain drain.
The head of the Cancer Institute at Mulago National Referral Hospital Dr. Jackson Orem has lamented about the sad state of affairs which he explained is the reason for the limited access and poor quality of cancer treatment by patients across the country despite a recent improvement in (cancer related) infrastructure.
“This is very alarming but it is at the same time a wake up call to us as a nation because we simply can’t go on like this given the current prevalence of the disease,” Orem said.
Uganda has seen a spike in the number of cancer cases in recent years. Experts note that there as about 800,000 cancer cases in the country, with over 20,000 cases being diagnosed each year. The situation is further complicated by the fact that there cancer diagnosis and care is limited to Kampala, meaning that many people especially from rural areas can hardly find care.
Orem added: “In such a crisis, those few oncologists, are too strained while offering quality service in the face of a growing number of cancer patients.”
Although cancer used to be a disease for the rich, it has now become a mass killer sparing not even the young, the old nor the poor and disadvantaged.
On Sunday this week, Ugandans woke up to the sad news of the death of the former Executive Director of Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA) Moses Mapesa and the former Cranes goalkeeper Abbey Dhairah both of whom succumbed to cancer.
According to figures from the Uganda Cancer institute (UCI) the incidence of cancer (the number of new cases at any one time) stands at 300 per 10,000 people while the prevalence of the disease is estimated at 700,000-800,000
Answering questions on what needs to be done to improve service delivery to cancer patients in the prevailing circumstances in the short run, Orem told The Sunrise that UCI is in final stages of implementing an ICT based consultation system intended to enable non-oncological medical staff personnel to treat cancer patients while directly consulting the few available oncologists.
While he calls for urgent training for new oncologists to arrest the situation, he agrees, it is going to be difficult explaining that it must be a highly specialized one, referring to it as a “4th level training.”
Orem attributes the crisis to the low incidence of the decease in earlier days, a situation where medical students, then never saw an urgent need to specialize in cancer treatment.
“There is therefore an urgent need to scale up efforts to encourage and motivate upcoming medical students to seriously consider specializing in this area (referring to cancer treatment) while training,” Orem adds.
However, according to Dr Orem, there is a ray of hope for better service delivery for cancer patients.
He stated that Uganda and UCI in particular has been selected to host a regional center of excellence intended to scale up capacity for cancer treatment in the region.
According to the head of non-communicable diseases in the ministry of Health Dr. Gerald Mutungi, the program is being funded by the African Development Bank (ADB) at a budget of US$45m over a period of five years.