By Shabibah Nakirigya
Uganda Cancer Institute has launched an initiative that aims to increase access to treatment for children affected by cancer.
This comes at a time when the Institute is working with several stakeholders, including Nation Media Group, to address treatment shortcomings.
The Institute also marked September for cancer awareness by giving eight children ages 18 and under a clean bill of health after five years of treatment.
The cancer survivors are Murshid Muwonge, Brian Mwonha, Austine Sebulime, Ambrose Kavuma and Nufaisha Nansubuga. Others include Catherine Namuyimbwa, Patience Aturinda, and Viola Nalwanga.
“During cancer patient treatment, we think about what it means to have a cancer patient in your family and put more effort into making sure all of our cancer patients are cured,” says Dr. Joyce Balagadde, chief of Pediatric Oncology Services at the Institute, said.
dr. Balagadde said the Institute benefits from having a specialist surgeon for children, which was not the case before. In the past, operations often stalled because the Institute relied too much on the main Mulago hospital.
“There’s also radiotherapy, which is key in treating children with cancer and the one we have is very robust,” said Dr Balagadde, adding that the common conditions for children are kidney and heart cancer, as well as rhabdomyosarcoma.
dr. Jackson Orem, the director of the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI), urged parents “to take children for early diagnosis because childhood cancer is highly curable.”
He added: “The moment we receive a patient at the UCI, the responsibility lies with us to ensure that we combine all the knowledge and medicines we have to treat them properly. [This] must be available and of good quality so that the children are treated well.”
Survivors speak out
Patience Aturinda, a leukemia survivor, said she had not been treated for nearly five years. She said she hadn’t felt any pain since she was discharged from the hospital.
“When we were released from the hospital, doctors advised my parents to keep me for a checkup for about a year until they realized I was fine,” she said.
Ms Justine Natooro, a mother of Ambrose Kavuma, said her son had breathing problems. A referral to the hospital ended with the advice of surgery.
“I was afraid, but the doctor asked me to take another look to see if the problem is not cancer before the surgery… I was advised to go to the Mulago Cancer Institute where they told me that the boy has cancer of the lungs and heart,” she said.
Kavuma immediately received daily treatment, including chemotherapy. After two years, he began to recover and quickly gained weight.
“I was scared, but the doctors kept advising me on how to handle the situation. The treatment took us four years and he is now getting better,” Ms Natooro said of her son who was discharged last year.
World Health Organization statistics estimate the cancer survival rate in the global south at 30 percent and 80 percent in the global north.
While Uganda’s survival rate is 50 percent, experts believe there is work to be done.