Ugandans urged to screen early for cancer to avoid costly treatment 

Dr Diana Atwiine, the permanent secretary Ministry of Health has asked Ugandans to always screen early for cancer and treat it at its infant stage as it is costly when it has grown. (FILE PHOTO)

KAMPALA- The permanent secretary Ministry of Health, Dr Diana Atwiine has said treating cancer is quite costly and encouraged Ugandans to prevent it by seeking early screening.

Dr. Atwiine made the call at the 5th Ministry of Health Monthly Media breakfast on July 30 at Lourdel Towers.

The event was intended to inform the public about the key sector interventions and achievements in line with prevention, control and treatment of cancer. The theme of the meeting was: Embracing Prevention: The fight against Cancer in Uganda.

“When one is diagnosed with cancer, the family will need millions of money so let’s prevent it together to avoid imposing a burden on families, the country and community,” she advised. Atwiine said the mortality rate of cancer is at 80% because many come to the institute when the disease is in late stages yet they would have been saved.

Dr Jackson Orem the Executive director at the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) said that since they don’t have adequate capacity to handle the overwhelming number of patients, they decided to mount an aggressive programme in training more specialists to manage the patients.

“Despite the inadequate workforce at the institute, the staff has done very well to ensure no patient returns home without any assistance. The pressure is huge. Patients from neighbouring countries come to access care and treatment and [they]constitute about 10% of the patients,” Orem said.

Orem said UCI has treated 150 patients since the inception of the cancer machine and this has enabled the institute save over Shs15bn.

Dr Nixon Niyonzima the Head of Training and Research at the UCI said that between 2009 and 2010, 4% of cancers were diagnosed and in 2017 it was at 10%. Every year 450 children are diagnosed with cancer.

Niyonzima however, assured Ugandans that childhood cancers have reduced as a result of media awareness and advised parents to be alert and seek quick medical help in case they see anything unusual.

“Our Medical and Paediatric oncology is fully fledged and we also have the surgical oncology programme that is in expansion phase with proposed construction of more theatres and a 12-bed in-patient ward,” Niyonzima said.

According to Dr Noleb Mugisha the head of Comprehensive Community Cancer Programme (CCCP) at UCI, childhood cancers are treatable and curable. It is not a lifestyle condition but a genetic predisposition and if one seeks early treatment, it can be cured.

UCI conducts routine cancer outreaches and a screening clinic on camp. And although 30,000 new cases of cancer were detected only 5,000 came for services at UCI.

Dr Niyonzima said the institute faces challenges that range from a high number of patients, understaffing, lack of infrastructure to house the machine and equipment and financing and budgetary constraints.

Dr. Mugisha said that there are cancers which are highly associated with infections, but others are a result of lifestyle and predisposition. He explained that some cancers cannot be avoided since others are born with the risks and can only be prevented through a healthy lifestyle.

“Many Ugandans are eating more fats and calories for example rice, chapatti and posho which have excessive calories that are converted into carbohydrates whose excessive intake exposes one to cancer risk. Other risks are lack of physical activity, high fat diet and lack of exercise,” he said.

Mugisha also warned against eating heavy meals after 4:00p.m. and failure to exercise.

Dr. Gerald Mutungi, the commissioner of the Non Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control at the ministry of Health said that the disease burden has reduced because of increased public awareness campaigns.

“Encourage the public to come and screen so that we manage the cancers early,” Mutungi added.

“Let’s go back to eating our natural local foods which our great grandparents used to eat.  Many of us buy grinded ground nuts or peanut paste yet you don’t know how it’s stored. It’s prone to mould,” Dr Atwiine said.

According to data availed from UCI, Prostate cancer, Oesophagus cancer and Cervical cancer are on the increase.




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