Mulago cancer machine breaks down

A July 2014 photo of clients at Uganda Cancer Institute, Mulago Hospital in Kampala. President Museveni last yeary launched a state-of-the-art UCI-Fred Hutchinson Cancer Centre at Mulago hospital where 20,000 cancer patients are set to get free treatment.


Cancer patients receiving radiotherapy treatment at Mulago hospital may have to wait until next year when the new cobalt 60 radiation machine will be installed, after the old one broke down three weeks ago.

According to Dr Jackson Orem, the director of Cancer Institute at Mulago hospital, it may be difficult to repair the radiotherapy machine, procured in 1995, to render efficient results.
“The machine is already too old. We shall try fixing it but even when we succeed, it will be dangerous for us to use it because we are dealing with radiation which can cause severe side effects to the patients,” Dr Orem said.

He said those patients who strictly need radiotherapy to destroy the cancerous cells, can only be referred abroad at the moment. Only those who need palliative care will be put on morphine drugs as an alternative.

However, in an interview with Daily Monitor, Ms Christine Namulindwa, the institute’s public relations officer, revealed that last year alone, the institute registered a total of 44,000 patients, 75 per cent of whom are affected by the breakdown.

“This machine usually breaks down and we have it repaired. It is not the first time. At the moment, unless a patient can afford to go to Nairobi in Kenya, there is no any other option,”Ms Namulindwa said.

Ms Namulindwa, however, said cervical cancer patients have not been affected because the high dose rate brachytherapy radiotherapy machine which treats cervical cancer is still operational.

Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, the Minister of Health, while addressing a press conference yesterday on World Health Day celebrations in Kampala, told journalists that government will next year construct the Shs100bn bunker to house the new Cobalt 60 machine. The machine was installed in 1995.

On a daily basis, the department receives about 100 cancer patients who need external exposure to radioactive waves to receive relief against cervical cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer and others organ cancers.

Last year, Dr Orem told Daily Monitor that the hospital administration had bought a new machine before the radiotherapy department was transferred to the cancer institute. He said the machine had, however, been kept in Vienna (the capital of Austria) because the hospital did not have a bunker where it is supposed to operate for safety reasons since it uses atomic energy.