30 April 2018

Lesotho: Breakthrough for Cancer Patients

Photo: This Day
Cancer cells. (file photo).
interview

LESOTHO has spent billions of maloti towards cancer treatment for patients in foreign hospitals but the rate of Basotho dying due to delays in getting treatment keeps rising. This has led to the government to push for the establishment of its own cancer centre with the assistance of India. The Lesotho Times' Keiso Mohloboli (LT) spoke to the Minister of Health, Nkaku Kabi (Mr Kabi), on the collaboration between Lesotho and India which will result in hundreds accessing specialised treatment in the Asian country. Below are the excepts of the interview.

It has been only two months since you assumed office as the Minister of Health, take us through your vision and where you want to take this ministry during your tenure.

When I got here, I met with the most senior officers of the ministry, the Deputy Minister, 'Manthabiseng Phohleli, the Principal Secretary Monaphathi Maraka, Director General, Dr Nyane Letsie and others to discuss the roadmap. It is during those interactions that I understood that it was imperative that the ministry provides best health services to patients and broadens access to health facilities even in the hardest to reach rural areas. We are collaborating with Ministry of Public Service in order to prioritise employment of nurses and doctors to address issues of understaffed hospitals and clinics, upgrading health facilities and will soon declare Motebang Hospital in Hlotse and Mafeteng Hospital as regional referral hospitals. We are engaging Indian Apollo Hospitals doctors to assist in treating cancer patients Lesotho quarterly. Lesotho will also establish its own cancer centre following 22 July 2018 when the First Ladies' alliance's conference where the cancer centre will be on the top agenda.

Please elaborate more on Lesotho and India collaboration on cancer treatment.

The government, through the Ministry of Health (MoH) reached an agreement with India to address cancer challenges in Lesotho and save lives. Cancer patients who are critical will be taken to India Apollo Hospitals for cancer treatment and Indian cancer experts will come to Lesotho every quarter starting from April 2018 to attend to patients and prescribe treatment.

The government has failed to put up with the Abuja declaration where governments were advised to allocate 15 percent of the national budget. We are now sitting on 11.8 percent of which M550 million goes to Queen 'Mamohato Memorial Hospital (Ts'epong) and M380 million goes to the Christian Health Association (CHAL) hospitals and clinics. The government also spends millions of maloti on cancer treatment received in SA while at the same time many Basotho are still dying of cancer.

Lesotho and India sealed a deal in 2016 which was negotiated in 2014 because of the good reputation Indian hospitals have as far as cancer treatment is concerned. What is important on the agreement with Apollo Hospitals is that you know the cancer treatment and drugs are expensive in South Africa. One patient pays between M500 000 to M600 000. Indian doctors have started visiting Lesotho to examine and treat cancer patients.

About 400 patients were attended to during their first visit here. I am afraid our campaign did not reach all the districts so most who were attended came from Maseru.

The problem that we are having is that people who were screened last year in August only got confirmation that they would be attended in July this year. It is saddening because cancer spreads through the whole body if not attended on time. Another issue disclosed by QMMH was that SA government hospitals serve Bloemfontein and the whole of Eastern Cape for cancer treatment that is why they delay in attending our patients.

But with the engagement of the Apollo Hospitals, critical patients will be taken to India for further treatment which costs between M70 000 and M100 000. This is about five times less than what we used to spend in SA.

The money is inclusive of flight tickets, accommodation and meals for the patient, a relative who will accompany the patient and a local nurse.

How far have you gone in terms of the processes of establishing the cancer centre apart from the forthcoming?

The MoH and other stakeholders are exerting pressure to the National Assembly to pass the Radiation Bill. When the Bill has been passed, the Ministry will be able to establish the cancer centre.

It has been an embarrassing issue for the country because every time our doctors go abroad to learn about cancer, we are always asked where they will be practising when they come back because we don't have cancer treatment facilities. It is more like we are producing doctors for other countries.

The government has focused more on the HIV and AIDS crisis and overlooked cancer which is a silent killer.

On 22 July 2018 we are hosting a big event on cancer to be attended by three former USA Presidents namely George Bush, Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama as part of our efforts to eradicate cancer. They have confirmed through the office of the First Lady.

What has been the setback hindering the passing of the Radiation Bill?

We do not have a valid reason why we have not passed the Radiation Bill so that we establish and build our own cancer centre. It is inappropriate for us to have relied on another country for something that has become so critical and life threatening, which needs to be attended quite on time. I think the approach and the treatment that we are currently getting from SA somehow woke us up and made us see what we need to do? We are not saying we are not grateful to the SA government for giving us support when we needed it.

How effective has been the ministry in terms of service delivery?

Before I took office as minister, I thought I was going to fire all the alleged reckless and careless nurses and doctors because of what I saw in the media.

But when I got here, I realised that one nurse takes care of more than fifty patients. It makes it difficult for these nurses to effectively assist patients because if one nurse is in the maternity ward assisting a delivering mother it would be difficult for him or her to assist any other patient even when it is an emergency.

It is high time that the MoH and the Ministry of Public Service worked together to address the issue of hospitals being understaffed. Actually, there is an agreement between the ministries to speed up processes of hiring medical experts.

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