19 January 2018

Uganda: Is There a Second Chance At Life for Cancer Patients in Uganda?


At exactly 10 minutes past midnight on January 1, I gathered with the rest of my greater extended family to say a prayer of thanks to God for making us see the light of the day in the year 2018.

Before the prayers, each one of us was asked to voice out our prayer requests and it was not surprising that good health came on top of the list for most of the family members in a group of about fifteen people myself inclusive.

Well what's money, a relationship, a good job, success and the now popular "slaying" without good health that equates to life? All these are absolutely meaningless.

In the past three years, Uganda has lost several people to several types of cancer, some of which I knew or heard of either close or far-fetched and of course some very popular influential people that have tirelessly served this country in various areas.

In the past week, the reality of this scourge set in when a friend of mine was nursing her now late sister. She was a young, brilliant mechanical engineer whose life did not get a second chance due to breast cancer.

Sadly in this reality, I asked myself what if that was me, my dad, my mum, my child, my husband or my friend? Would we get a second chance at life with the kind of cancer treatment facilities we have in Uganda and if the facilities are there, could we afford the treatment?. My answers to those questions were no.

Dr Jackson Orem, the executive director of Uganda Cancer Institute, in one of his interviews mentions that for every 100 new cases diagnosed, 80 of them die (80 per cent mortality rate). He further cited that only 4 per cent of every 100 suspected cases make it to the cancer institute due to lack of awareness among Ugandans on their status in addition to social economic barriers like distance of the cancer institute from various parts of Uganda as well as accessibility of drugs.

Ultimately, the food for thought to evaluate our vulnerability to cancer would be a simple question of, if I got cancer today, would I get a second chance? That's the question every Ugandan should ask in the face of this scourge.

If your answer is no like mine, the question would be, are we going to wait to die or bury our loved ones?

Without a doubt, it is evident that an ordinary to a middle income Ugandan cannot afford to comfortably cover expenses for that much needed specialised cancer treatment either in Uganda or worse still the now popular medical destination- India, save for a few Ugandans, who can afford it and other medical destinations in the world.

How many times and how long can we go on having car washing fundraisers to mobilise resources for our friends? What about those that don't have affluent friends and families to organise fundraises?

Without question, the government of Uganda needs to spring into action and prioritise the health sector through increasing the health sector budget; design and conduct massive civic education programmes on preventive measures, early detection; avail access to cancer facilities for early testing/detection, provide specialised cancer facilities; equip the cancer institute with drugs and, most importantly strengthening the human resource retention by provision of decent remuneration of cancer medical experts and caregivers.

It is only through some of those interventions that Ugandans can proudly face and fight cancer honourably. Cancer is no longer far-fetched to every Ugandan it is here!

Ms Aryatwijuka is program officer at Ecological Christian Organisation


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