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Fix Mulago’s Radiotherapy Clinic Disgrace [editorial]

In August last year, The Observer carried a news story about paralysis at the radiotherapy clinic at the Mulago national referral hospital.

The cobalt-60 equipment had been down for two weeks, leaving patients frustrated. Radiotherapy is a critical stage in the treatment of cancer, one of the biggest emerging health care challenges in Uganda. The machine at Mulago, a donation from the International Atomic Energy Agency, has been in use for nearly 20 years.

This is almost twice the average lifespan of such equipment. Besides, according to a 2009 article in the Journal of Medical Physics, this cobalt-60 technology is old – fashioned – which means Mulago would even struggle to find good spare parts.

Yet it is the only one the country has, serving people from as far as northern Rwanda, western Kenya and South Sudan. Last year, the Mulago clinic handled at least 2,000 new cancer patients, not to mention hundreds of return-clients. One year since we reported the problem, we have found that the equipment routinely breaks down because, experts say, it is way too old and should have been decommissioned at least seven years ago.

Today, the standard greeting at the clinic is: “Is the machine working?”

But the smile brought by an affirmative answer can be short-lived. The machine often malfunctions during an operation, leaving the patient traumatized, as heshe wonders whether the radiation malfunction could not harm them.

The situation at Mulago’s radiotherapy clinic is a painful reminder of the neglect and underinvestment in Uganda’s public healthcare system. Internet research suggests that a new radiotherapy unit would cost anywhere between Shs 4 billion and Shs 6 billion.

This may seem huge, but it is hardly much compared, for instance, to the Shs 93bn that State House budgeted for various fundraising causes this financial year. Or what is it compared to nearly Shs 28bn for different district delegations courting State House? Government certainly can afford to end this disgrace and improve the quality of life for thousands of taxpayers.

The greatest tragedy in poor countries is not so much the lack of choices among the poor as it is the poor choices made by their wealthy political classes.

Source : The Observer

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