On Saturday, Rosemary Nankabirwa, a former news anchor at NTV Uganda, was airlifted to Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, for specialised cancer treatment. On Sunday afternoon, Rosemary died. She was 37 – at the prime of her journalism career.
Rosemary’s battle with cancer – from the Cancer Institute at Mulago, Kampala, where she was admitted with adrenocortical carcinoma cancer, to the point she was taken off life support at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi – is a heartrending tale of pain, resilience, hope and faith. Her friends and former colleagues at NTV even spearheaded a fundraising drive that raised more than Shs100 million for her treatment. But she lost the battle.
This story represents that of thousands of other cancer patients in Uganda. This year alone, three journalists have succumbed to cancer. Veteran news anchor Dan Kyazze succumbed to liver cancer in February while celebrated news anchor Bbale Francis, who had cancer of the bladder, died on April 2. We know their story because they were public figures. But there are thousands of cancer patients whose story is not known yet they need and deserve proper care and treatment.
Currently, the Uganda Cancer Institute at Mulago has only 80 beds for inpatients. This is a facility that registers 200 patient visits daily. The institute is woefully inadequate, with only eight oncologists and patients occupy the corridors and verandas.
Despite the rising cancer cases, efforts to promote screening are insufficient. With early detection, cancer deaths would be significantly reduced but that can only happen if we invested in the sector. In 2012, at least 2,800 new cancer cases were registered – a notable increase from the 1,800 registered in 2011. This is a worrying trend.
Ugandans must start asking critical questions about the crumbling health system. The lamentable state of patients at the cancer institute is disturbing. It is noble for the public to contribute towards the treatment of a patient in need but this should not be the norm since the intervention of well-wishers may be too late to successfully manage the disease.
The government must not abdicate its role of providing healthcare to its citizens. There is crucial need to build capacity of all health workers countrywide to carry out cancer screening right from community health centres. It is equally critical to improve the national cancer institute, as well as building and equipping regional cancer institutes with enough qualified staff.
This requires enough investment and commitment to quality healthcare provision, including psychosocial services and palliative care. The 201516 Budget should prioritise the health sector.
The issue: Cancer treatment and care
Our view: There is crucial need to build capacity of all health workers countrywide to carry out cancer screening right from community health centres.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor