Can we raise Shs2 trillion and solve cancer institute’s headaches?

Patients at the verandah of Uganda Cancer Institute in Mulago on Tuesday. PHOTO | SYLIVIA KATUSHABE

What you need to know:

The issue: Uganda Cancer Institute

Our view: If at least Shs2 trillion is released in one tranche, the above projects will come to life and oncologists, led by Dr Orem, believe that more than two in 10 cancer patients will survive.

Uganda Cancer Institute is back in the news. If the institute is not grappling with understaffing and equipment issues, it is about accommodation and handling of patients.

Yesterday, this publication published a story “Cancer patients, caretakers cry out for help”, indicating that people are in dire need of accommodation. Some of the patients and caregivers at the institute in Kampala are sleeping in worn-out tents erected outside the facility’s care hostel. The tarpaulin tents were donated by audit firm Grant Thornton Uganda and erected at the hostel’s compound, thanks to an article by another local newspaper last August. The article  indicated that dozens of patients and caregivers were sleeping on verandas and under trees at the national referral hospital, and that the verandas had “become their second homes” because their “mattresses, clothes, saucepans and sundry” were “littered everywhere”.

 In March 2021, satirist Jimmy Spire Ssentongo in the same newspaper wrote: “Perhaps Uganda Cancer Institute contracted cancer’’ because first, “there wasn’t much to see, apart from the fact that the place was crowded with patients. Secondly, there is difficulty in getting appointments at the facility and also because accessing a doctor at the facility was rather hard, “many patients desperately rely on prescriptions from fellow patients as they wait their turn”.

Mr Ssentongo, in his interaction with some patients and caregivers, said patients were using marijuana, which was being sold as “porridge flour” in the vicinity of the facility, based at Mulago, because of difficulty in accessing drugs at the hospital and high cost of cancer drugs in pharmacies. Also, some of the people told him dead bodies would remain on the wards for a day.

All these paint a grim picture at the institute. Founded in 1967, the institute currently has 100 beds. But if it is to serve the entire country, it needs to expand to a 365-bed facility, build and operationalise four regional centres and the East African Centre of Excellence and a testing centre, which is vital for early detection and diagnosis.

 Dr Jackson Orem, the executive directive of the Uganda Cancer Institute, yesterday told this publication that the above challenges can be solved by money. Money for testing centre, expansion projects and the regional centres, thank God that the ones of Gulu and Mbarara, to serve northern, western and south western Uganda are already in operation.  Arua and Mbale regional cancer centres will each need about Shs500 billion if inflation and other factors are put into consideration, for construction and equipping, according to Dr Orem. For the expansion project, Shs11 billion has been allocated in the FY2023/2024. Dr Orem, however, says, if an additional Shs11 billion is released, the project is expected to be completed in the next two years. If at least Shs2 trillion is released in one tranche, the above projects will come to life and oncologists, led by Dr Orem, believe that more than two in 10 cancer patients will survive.

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