After 21 years of faithful service following it’s donation in 1995, Uganda’s only radiotherapy machine gave up about three weeks ago. The machine situated in Kampala’s national referral hospital, Mulago is beyond repair and leaves the country with no other option outside replacement. According to the Ugandan Cancer Institute, the machine had on average catered to 27,648 patients annually so you can understand why Ugandans need to save Mulago.
With the breakdown of the radiotherapy machine, at least 2000 patients have lost access to radiotherapy and these cancer patients will have to travel to neighbouring Kenya to seek treatment, a move that is sure to set them back at least $5000.
The news of the machines breakdown has prompted massive outcry and citizens have gone on social media to influence the government to step in and save the situation. Using the hashtag #SaveMulago, they are requesting that an emergency equipment be bought.
The Ugandan Cancer Institute by way of a response called for a press conference which was led by the government’s health minister. Playing down the impact of the machine’s failure, the minister informed the public that only 20% of cancer patients would be affected. Health professionals and oncologists however present a different, grimmer view which estimates that over 75% of cancer patients would have no other option outside travelling abroad for treatment.
The UCI again has Uganda recording 20,000 new cancer cases every year and estimates that around 300,000 cases will be registered in the next five years. They also revealed that more than 80% of cancer patients in Uganda are diagnosed late, usually at stage 3 or 4, a time when access to radiotherapy is often critical.
On the question of when the government will get a new radiotherapy machine, officials say that an order has already been placed for a new Cobalt-60 radiation machine and they merely await the construction of a special bunker to house it. Head of the UCI, Dr Jackson Orem, says the construction depends on securing 31bn Ugandan shillings (£6.4m) in the next financial year, which will in essence mean that cancer patients in need of urgent treatment will have to wait at least 18 months to gain access to necessary treatment.
As government intervention appears more and more unlikely, Ugandans are beginning to consider crowdfunding to raise the money needed to speed through the process, save Mulago and help the patients who will be affected. Reports circulating have it that high profile figures are already pledging to donate large sums. It is however necessary to question if this is an acceptable path to take, where average citizens have to crowdfund to rescue an entire country’s healthcare system.
As urgent as the need to save Mulago may be, crowdfunding this public health need may work to give leeway to the Ugandan government to relax and where they have never shown that they require any excuse to do so, it is almost scary to consider the future outcome of such a move. Ugandans have in the same vein asked via social media that the government forget a pornography detection machine it plans to purchase and instead focus the money into saving Mulago.