Dr. Ajeani says that when cancer patients cannot access the right kind of medication that they need, so many of them are left helpless with no other option but to procure the drugs from elsewhere.On the open market, cancer medication ranges from Ugx 45,000 to 500,000 a month depending the type of cancer being treated and what regimen of drugs is being used.
The Director of the Uganda Cancer Institute has said lack of drugs is affecting the quality of care given to cancer patients who seek treatment at the facility.
In an interview with URN, Dr. Jackson Orem intimated that the continuous lack of cancer drugs needed by patients has left them as sitting ducks.
He said that the lack of much needed drugs at the institute is a reoccurring problem that they face.
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Dr. Judith Ajeani, Gynaecology oncologist, Mulago Hospital says that cancer patients in the country suffer a lot due to lack of drugs.
“Only 50% of the required tamoxifen is ever available for patients. Only 1 in every 3 women in this country is able to access oral morphine.”
Tamoxifen is a drug that is majorly used in Uganda and internationally to treat breast cancer, while morphine is oral medication for pain.
Dr. Ajeani says that when cancer patients cannot access the right kind of medication that they need, so many of them are left helpless with no other option but to procure the drugs from elsewhere.
On the open market, cancer medication ranges from UGX45,000 to UGX500,000, a month depending the type of cancer being treated and what regimen of drugs is being used.
According UCI, most common types of cancer in adults are cervical , prostrate, breast , stomach, liver. In children leukemia is the most common.
In 2015, UCI officials were grilled by the parliament health committee over the expiration of drugs worth 425mn that were found in stores according to the 2013/2014 Auditor General's report.
Dan Kimosho, Public Relations Officer, National Medical Stores says that they as a body mandated to supply health facilities with drugs do so according to what they are asked for by health centers.
“We serve over 3,000 health centers in the country and we give them medicines according to budget from the ministry of health, available procurement plans and whether or not health facilities put in their orders in time. If all these three factors are met, then health care facilities receive their drugs on time.”
Dr. Orem says that the lack of drugs when they want them in the right quantity affects the work that they do.
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He says that while they take an oath to treat people as doctors, they cannot do it if they are not supplied the right amounts of drugs needed by NMS.
Availability of drugs is not the only thing that affects cancer patients at UCI. Since last year to date patients who need radiotherapy have had to go to Nairobi after the break down of the old radio therapy machine at the institute.
Dr. Orem says that they expect to be able to offer radiotherapy next month after the assembly of the new radiotherapy machine.
“We got a new machine in August after a long wait but it is still being assembled and we cannot use it now. So, we hope to be up and running sometime next month if all goes according to plan.”
According to the UCI, cancer is on the rise in Uganda. This year, 300 new infections per 100,000 people have been recorded compared to 270 per 100,000 in 2008. By 2020, this figure is expected to stand at 400 new infections per 100,000 people.
Dr. Orem says that with the increase of new infections, a long lasting solution to drug shortages needs to be coined.
“If things remain the way that they are as far as availability of drugs is concerned, we shall be doing cancer patients a disservice.”
Cancer develops in a body when unwanted cells begin to grow in abnormal and uncontrolled ways. It affects both males and females.