Health workers at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital are grappling with high numbers of cancer patients.
Dr Elias Kumbakumba, the head of department of Paediatrics and Child Health at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) and Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital (MRRH), said the 15-bed capacity ward is always full.
"More space is needed to cater for the increasing number of children with cancers. The ward has registered 85 new cases of cancer in the last six months. The medics were already managing other 80 children with different cancers," Dr Kumbakumba said on Tuesday.
"This brings the total number of cases being managed at the ward to 165 patients. If we continue at this rate in the next six months, we will probably register other 80 new cases," he added.
The ward was established in 2017 through collaboration between Global Health Collaborative, MUST and Massachusetts General Hospital in United States.
It is under the Mbarara Regional Cancer Centre that also has specialised treatment for adults and women.
The centre is the only government-supported cancer treatment facility outside Kampala.
The paediatric ward serves patients from Ankole, Kigezi, Kasese, part of Tooro and western Buganda as well as neighbouring DR Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania.
"We get children from all these corners. We even get patients from Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala to benefit from our fast and effective surgical services," Dr Kumbakumba said.
The centre is also facing a shortage of manpower since there are only two cancer specialists.
"Treating cancer is very intensive. If you get into the clinic when we are treating cancer, you get shocked by how serious it is. We need at least three specialists for children and three for adults," Dr Kumbakumba said. The paediatric ward has only seven nurses who are overwhelmed.
"Even out of the seven we have, only two are government employees. The rest are paid with money collected from cancer runs and donors," he said.
Dr Celestine Barigye, the director of Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, acknowledged the challenges, but added that cancer treatment was a new initiative at the hospital that needs government support.
"When you are starting, you need experts, infrastructure and drugs. That's how Global Health Collaborative came in to assist until government is able to fully support. We have recruited some staff and we are in the process of recruiting more," Dr Barigye said.
"Uganda Cancer Institute has been giving us drugs and others are bought using money donated through various initiatives. Part of money from cancer run buys extra drugs and food. You give drugs and provide food. Patients cannot afford some of these drugs because they are poor people," he added.
Some of the cancers among children admitted at the paediatric ward are acute Leukemia.
These are cancers of the blood cells where the bone marrow is invaded by abnormal cells. Thirty per cent of these cancers are diagnosed at the ward.
Lymphoma. These cancers affect lyphnodes and all lymphoid tissue. They present with swellings, mainly of the jaw, neck and abdomen, and constitute about 20 per cent of the cancers diagnosed at the ward.