27 October 2011

Uganda: Suffering One of the Highest Rates of Cancer

Even before Ugandans come to terms with the harsh realities of HIV/Aids, another shocking fact has emerged.

The Pearl of Africa has the highest cancer rates in the world. According to research from the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in the US, the first case of cancer in Uganda was diagnosed in 1960s.

In a media briefing, Dr Jackson Orem director Uganda Cancer Institute, lamented that the HIV epidemic is among the leading causatives of cancer. in the developing world, Uganda inclusive and the most affected are women and children

"Uganda has among the highest cancer rates in the world, yet limited resources for patient diagnosis and care are available. This makes Uganda's cancer survival rate just 10 percent," Dr Orem said.

"The trend threatens to undermine the young and productive segment of Africa's population and thus improving cancer survival rates especially among children is essential," said Dr Orem.

Research done by the UCI reveals that in 2008, the country had only one oncologist, and Mulago hospital was receiving about 10,000 cancer cases annually, most of which in there late stages.

In a country where nearly 1.2 million people are estimated to be living with HIV/Aids, another cancer - Non-hodgkin lymphoma - has joined the list of the most common cancers and one of the most common developed in HIV infected individuals.

According to a report done and released early this year on the status of cancer in Uganda by the US based oncologist Dr Corey Casper of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, Uganda has home to one of the world's highest concentration of infection-related cancers since 2004.

"It is a tragedy that many of the patients are children and most of their cancers reach the advanced stages before they are diagnosed, leaving little hope," part of the report reads. Dr Corey ascertains that cancer is becoming the leading cause of death in the sub-Saharan region. It is estimated that by 2020, cancer will kill more people than HIV, TB and malaria altogether.

"Studies have shown that the rate at which Ugandans are getting infected almost triples that in the US and Europe," observes Dr Corey Casper.

Another research scientist, Dr Abraham Omoding, has revealed that each year in Uganda, nearly 600 children are diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma, a potentially fatal and disfiguring malignancy.

"Burkitt's lymphoma is the most common cancer found among Ugandan children and the average age at the time of diagnosis is five," said Dr Omoding.

"The patient load is really extensive yet resources for treatment are limited. This means the five year survival rate which is 40 per cent, will continue to reduce tremendously," he adds.

However, he believes that about 85 per cent of the children suffering from Burkitt's lymphoma if diagnosed early enough can be cured of the disease at a minimum cost of $600 (approx. Shs1.7m) a case.

"Parents often lack the funds to take their children to a doctor and many of our young patients at the UCI arrive when the disease is advanced and the prognosis is grim," Dr Omoding also a specialist registrar in medical oncology, Uganda Cancer Institute states.

The most common cancers affecting Ugandans are Kaposi's Sarcoma, Burkitt's lymphoma, cervical cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer, prostate cancer, Hodgkin and Non-hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia.

Glimmer of hope

Not all is lost though. UCI has teamed up with the Seattle US based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, which is to establish a cancer treatment and research centre in Uganda to be completed by 2013. It is estimated to accommodate up to 20,000 patient visits annually.

"This research centre clinic and training institute will significantly increase patient access to cancer diagnosis and treatment while furthering study of cancers in Uganda. Doctors are doing further investigations in the role that infections such as HIV have on the development of cancers," says Christine Namulindwa, the Public Relations Officer at UCI.

This facility is to be funded in part by two grants totaling to $ 1.4m (approx. Shs3.9b) from USAID and a $900,000 (approx. Shs2.5b) investment from the Hutchinson centre. It is expected to improve medical training and cancer treatment, boosting survival rates for common infection related cancers from 10 to 90 per cent.

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