Govt should move fast and avert looming cancer crisis 

Patients and caretakers wait to be attended to at the Uganda Cancer Institute in Mulago, Kampala, in 2018. PHOTO | FILE 

What you need to know:

  • The issue: Looming cancer burden.
  • Our view: Government has previously responded well to health emergencies, the looming cancer crisis should be treated with urgency.

That the burden of cancer in Uganda will go up by up to 40 percent in the next eight years should worry every one.

In a recent report by nine researchers from Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI), Makerere University, America and South Korea, it was revealed that “cervical, breast and prostate cancer incidence was projected to increase by 35 percent, 57.7 percent and 33.4 percent, respectively”.

In a country with only one comprehensive cancer care centre – UCI, that handles about 65,000 patients annually – we already seem miles behind the fight. 

The news comes just months after UCI said it registered up to 7,000 new cases of cancer in 2021, more than doubled the 3,000 cases it detected in 2018. The increased numbers mean long waiting hours for patients to access services due to limited facilities and specialists. This newspaper only recently reported that UCI had banned patients – who have nowhere to go – from sleeping on their verandas and corridors. 

The facility can accommodate only 100 patients. The other patients have to go to the UCI care home, a temporary structure having only two tents.

Government has previously responded well to health emergencies, with the most recent being the Covid-19 pandemic. The authorities were able to mobilise money and priorities well to make sure that those infected were well taken care of, but also that a lot of resources went towards prevention.

And our view is that the looming cancer burden should be treated with the urgently it deserves. Ordinary cancer patients sleeping in makeshift wards, and connected government officials having to be flown abroad for treatment does not paint a picture of a country that is prepared for the fight ahead.

Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja recently told Parliament that regional cancer treatment centres will be ready by 2025. This should give some hope to the ordinary Ugandan as treatment would give one a fighting chance, but again, this is a government that has sometimes promised more than it can delivery. The regional treatment centres have to be prioritised.

Government also recently earmarked Shs310b for the purchase of modern equipment for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The responsible authorities must ensure that every coin is spent on what it was meant for, given that corruption is another cancer we are fighting. 

Finally, it is everyone’s responsibility to keep healthy. The World Health Organisation recently said non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes are responsible for 74 percent of deaths globally. We need to watch our diets, exercise and avoid substance abuse.


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