A breakdown on an old Cobalt 60 radiotherapy machine last month will see about 2,000 cancer patients in need of therapy treatment in Uganda wait for about two years to receive relief from their unbearable pain.
The breakdown has caused national and international public outcry and has attracted widespread condemnation of government with some sections of the public criticising the government for failing to prioritise cancer treatment in the country following a Shs1.4 trillion supplementary budget passed by Parliament last week without funds dedicated to the deadly disease.
“From the 2014/15 budget, government gave UCI about Shs8 billion, Shs17 billion this financial year and in the financial year 2016/2017, government is going to give the cancer institute about Sh41b,” the Health Minister Dr Elioda Tumwesigye defended the government during a press conference on Sunday.
He added that the government has already placed an order to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to replace the old Cobalt 60 machine installed 21 years ago.
“There are different types of radiotherapy machines and what we have is an older model and there is another machine we are buying and I think a receipt has been provided to you. We will be bringing a Cobalt 60 Machine,” the minister said without being specific on the date.
He said the machine has been offering free treatment to many foreigners running away from high treatment cost in their countries.
However, Dr Tumwesigye said the new machine has been delayed by construction of a bunker to house it since the old bunker was found to have safety problems.
Terming the bunker construction process as complex, Dr Jackson Orem, the director of the UCI, said it has taken about two years to have the designs of the bunker approved by IAEA since it uses nuclear and atomic technology.
He said the process of constructing a bunker will last about one year or more depending on the speed of the contractor and availability of funds. It will then be followed by the process of manufacturing and shipping of the machine.
“We have gotten the design of the bunker and we are now left with the company to have work done. We have three reputable international companies which are being evaluated and if all goes as planned the groundbreaking ceremony should take place in the first week of May,” said Dr Orem.
A receipt document seen by Uganda’s leading newspaper The Monitor, circulated by UCI on social media indicates that government paid 325, 297Euros ( Shs1.2 billion) to IAEA offices based in Vienna, Austria on May 22, 2013.
“This amount represents a voluntary contribution from the government of Uganda, through Mulago Hospital Complex for the purchase of the Cobalt 60 Telepherapy machine under the IAEA Cooperation project UGA/6/015,” indicated the receipt in part.