Kampala — The Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) has started charging Shs300,000 for patients seeking radiotherapy treatment, which was previously free-of-charge.
Radiotherapy treatment is where radioactive waves are used to kill cancer cells to stop them from spreading in the body. It is usually used in combination with drugs and surgery.
The money, according to the memo issued by the UCI management on October 30, caters for all the 25 radiotherapy sessions. The patients on private arrangement pay Shs500,000 while international patients are charged $2,000 (about Shs7.4m).
Dr Jackson Orem, the UCI executive director, confirmed that the charges started last month.
"Yes, we started like a month ago after a board decision. It is not my personal decision as [Dr] Orem. Non-tax revenue is government policy and we have to generate revenue," Dr Orem said by telephone yesterday.
Asked if the fees will not strain the patients, he said there is a waiver for critically ill patients who cannot afford.
"You tell your doctor and they write a recommendation to me. There is that provision," Dr Orem added.
However, the different patients interviewed by this newspaper disputed Dr Orem's claim of a waiver.
"If you come here without the money, they tell you to go back and look for it. Of course you have to look for it or else you die," said a patient who preferred anonymity because she is not authorised to speak to the media.
A health worker at Hospice Africa-Uganda, a non-government organisation offering palliative care, informed this newspaper that the fees came as a shocker to their patients, many of whom had to sell their property to raise the money.
"We currently cannot help because the cancer institute has not yet sent us an official communication about the new fees, which the organisation needs to solicit funding from donors to sponsor our patients," the health worker said on condition of anonymity. The source also said many critically ill patients have since returned to the villages, resigned to fate.
Dr Eddie Mwebesa, the chief executive director of Hospice Africa Uganda, was not available as his telephone remained switched off the whole of yesterday. Cancer patients are also required to undertake additional ear, heart and blood tests most of which are recommended to be done in private clinics at a cost ranging between Shs50,000 and Shs80,000 before one goes for radiotherapy.
Most cancer patients are also recommended to undertake radiotherapy in combination with drugs which they usually outsource at a cost of Shs220,000 to Shs700,000 per week.