Uganda oncologists serious about cancer

Posted on April 20, 2015 12:02 am

Undoubtedly, cancer rates are increasing around the world and developing countries like Uganda have not been spared either.Cancer is now the second largest at 23.5 percent cause of death worldwide, topped only by heart disease at 33.5 percent. The World Health Organization forecasts that there will be 11 million cancer-related deaths in the world in the next 15 years.It has been estimated that there will be 16 million new cancer cases every year, and 70 percent of those new cases would be in developing countries by 2020 which Uganda is one of them. What is more alarming is that, increasingly, cancer attacks younger people who are supposed to still be in the productive stages of their lives. When someone in the family suffers from cancer, the entire family is affected. The situation is even worse if the patient with cancer is the family’s breadwinner. In the low-income and developing countries like Uganda, where there is no insurance to cover incapacitation due to cancer, the cost of the procedures to control the progression of cancer and prolong the life of the patient can be really staggering.

A Ugandan Oncologist whom asked me not to name him when I went to seek his professional advise about cancer, informed me that oncologists are physicians who are specially trained to study, diagnose and treat cancerous tumors and come from a variety of specializations, including pediatrics, gynecology, hematology, radiation and surgery.His background is surgery and we are working together in a robotic surgery project in Africa.Uganda Cancer Unit at country’s largest referral hospital Mulago has in the past expressed deep concerns with the future of Uganda’s struggle against cancer. Due to lack of awareness and perhaps lack of financial resources, cancer patients are usually brought to us when they are already in the very advanced stage in Uganda according to a study conducted by an American University three years ago. What I learned from the Oncologist is that when cancer is detected early, the chances of the patient being cured is high, but the more advanced it is the less possibility of the patient’s survival and the less affordable the cost.

Quoting World Health Organization, he told me that 30 percent of cancer cases are actually preventable and 30 percent are curable if they are detected early enough. So, one of the best strategies is to detect the onset of cancer growth as early as possible. But the real challenge is that there are less than 100 oncologists in Uganda a country with a population of estimated 36 million.The stark scarcity of doctors with expertise in cancer is exacerbated by the fact that they are not evenly distributed throughout the ‘Pearl of Africa.’ In fact, the norther part of Uganda, north East do not have access to an oncologist. The Oncologist finds this very worrying, especially as the traditional diet of the local people may contain carcinogenic substances and HIV/AIDS is already widespread in these areas according to the latest data from Uganda Health Marketing Group report.The Uganda governments has planned a series of initiatives to help address the growingly grim picture. First, Ministry of Health will help spread the knowledge about cancer among health workers, including nurses and those who work in the field.

Prevention is always the best approach to an illness, and education is the best tool of prevention as President Yoweri Museveni was quoted in the local media few months back. Because it takes so many years to become a certified oncologist,Uganda is also planning to accelerate the spread of knowledge by holding seminars and training programs to enable other medical professionals such as internists, general surgeons, pediatricians and general physicians to help treat the disease. Some may be invited to come from their assigned posts to Kampala for a “Training the Trainer” program. When they return to their posts in remote areas like Western,Eastern and Northern Uganda they are expected to spread the knowledge and skills needed in the early detection of cancer.In addition, hospitals especially those in far-off regions, must be equipped with cancer management facilities. Other possible measures include empowerment of cancer research at universities. Efforts will also require the full involvement, not just support, of the Ugandan government through the Health Ministry. The threat of cancer in Uganda is already alarming and could reach epidemic proportions by 2030 according to the oncologist.

Contador Harrison