18 August 2017

Uganda: New Cancer Machine Not the Best, Says Doctor

Dr Ekwaro Obuku, the general secretary of the Uganda Medical Association, says the new Cobalt-60 cancer machine for radiotherapy services, which arrived at Mulago national referral hospital on Wednesday is not the best for cancer patients since it uses old technology, has many side effects and treats fewer patients per day.

"Cobalt 60 technology was first discovered in 1949... . Cobalt 60 technology has challenges with disposal of radioactive waste, which must be managed by a health sector to avoid side effects," he said.

However, Dr Jackson Orem, the executive director of the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI), balked at this argument, saying the new machine has modern technology and is safe.

"This is a very good machine with modern technology and good service. We also know how to handle the wastes. That is why on the site, here, we have our temporary depository to keep waste securely awaiting for repatriation," he said.

However, Obuku told The Observer on August 16 that Uganda should have gone for the new Linac or linear accelerator treatment machine, which is safer as it doesn't generate nuclear waste and treats more patients within a short time.

"With the cobalt-60 technology, you take a minimum of two to six hours treating one patient and in a day it handles only four patients yet sometimes power goes off at Mulago hospital," he said.

Orem said the machine will handle 80 patients per day and it is very safe to both patients and doctors.

The new cobalt-60 cancer machine has been procured by government and the Geneva-based International Atomic Energy Agency at Euros 640,000 (Shs 2.7bn), including shipping.

However, Obuku said the Linac machine goes for about $4m (about Shs 15bn). He added that government should have invested in the better modern machine or, if not, buy at least five cobalt-60 cancer machines since the patients are increasing daily and one machine is not enough to handle all cases within short time.


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