The Covid-19 lockdown has significantly impacted on the prevention and treatment for non-communicable diseases according to the World Health Organisation and developing countries are the most affected.
The number of people being referred to consultants with suspected cancer has fallen globally by about 50 per cent during the lockdown because screening services were put to a halt as a way of preventing the spread of the Coronavirus.
According to Jackson Orem, the executive director of Uganda Cancer Institute, there has not been a change in the number of cancer patients being treated for the disease at the cancer institute.
"The number of patients we treat for cancer has remained the same. By the time of the lockdown, we realized that there were so many patients that had to continue with treatment so we found ambulances that would transport them to and from the Cancer Institute and their home districts," says Dr Orem.
There were several media reports that cancer patients were stuck at Mulago Hospital and were not able to go back after finishing their treatment but were finally taken home. However, there were patients whose treatment dates had been scheduled for the time when public transport was stopped and they could not come to the cancer institute.
Goretti Agobusingye was supposed to return for treatment on March 27 but because of the lockdown, she could not. The 41-year old battles a reoccurrence of breast cancer that was diagnosed in January this year.
"I got itching in the right breast in July 2018. I got some exposure sessions for radiotherapy and then underwent surgery to remove the breast. I continued with chemotherapy and thereafter radiotherapy again. There was progress in the first place until while on I still on review, felt pain in the second breast," she recalls.
Agobusingye immediately reported the pain in the left breast and after a biopsy, she was found to have a reoccurrence of cancer in the breast. She was started on chemotherapy but had not been operated on for the second breast. By the time schools and other public places were closed, she had completed three cycles.
"Life is always hard at the Cancer Institute and I was not sure how the situation was going to be. I decided to back to Masindi. I did not know about the arrangement that there were ambulances at the district that would take me for treatment," she says.
By June 12, the public transport restrictions had been eased so Agobusingye came to get her treatment at a cost of Shs 50,000. "I had developed a wound on a previous scar so I had to start the chemotherapy afresh," Agobusingye says.
Faridah Nambafu had a biopsy test in March at Jinja Referral Hospital and her results were positive for breast cancer. By the time she was told to start the treatment at the Cancer Institute, there were no public means of transport.
She first went back home and contacted the doctors at the institute who told her to find a way of coming. She went to the RDC's office but she was told that she could only get permission to move if she had a car. When her pain intensified, she was forced to return to Jinja Hospital.
"I had heard that referral hospitals had ways of transporting cancer patients to Mulago but when I inquired, I was told that I had to pay Shs 200,000 for the ambulance fuel. I did not have the money. I stayed around the hospital and while I cried in one of the corridors," says Nambafu. A week later, Nambafu managed to get to the institute and see a doctor and was started on treatment and another cycle of chemotherapy.
Screening services also stopped
At 67, Edith Azuba, a resident of Kamuli takes routine screening for cancer a very important issue and part of her life because her father died due to late-stage cancer and another of her relatives got cancer but since it was diagnosed early, it was treated and now the relative is fine. This time she was unable to get one because of the lockdown. Dr Orem says, screening will resume the screening for cancer when the pandemic situation improves.