By Fahim Muyingo
According to the current status of cancer care in Uganda, over 33,000 Ugandans are diagnosed with cancer every year, however, only about 7,400 make it to Uganda Cancer Institute for cancer care.
The Uganda Cancer Institute said the reason 70% of cancer patients are not accessing cancer care is because of the geographical divide that affects patients in rural areas as well as poverty and socio-economic factors.
Other barriers included age where the elderly find it hard to move from remote areas to access cancer care. Also, the proximity of the Uganda Cancer Institute mostly favours people in urban areas to access cancer care compared to those in rural areas.
Dr Nixon Niyonzima, a cancer researcher at the Uganda Cancer Institute, says the barriers lead to a wide disparity in cancer survival not only between high-income and low-income countries but also between rural and urban areas.
He said due to the barriers, more than 80% of the cancer patients registered at Uganda Cancer Institute present with late-stage disease (stages 3 and 4) which significantly affects cancer survival.
Women with breast cancer in Uganda have a 56% chance of surviving the ailment. However, because of the geographical divide, those in rural areas are among those who present themselves late at Uganda Cancer Institute; when cancer has advanced enough and is difficult to be treated.
Jackson Orem, the executive director of Uganda Cancer Institute, said a national cancer control plan has already been drawn to make sure there’s good coordination in fighting cancer infections among Ugandans.
The plan involves disseminating cancer care to different regions of the country. He says at the intermediate level, regional cancer centers are to be established in regions like Mbarara, Arua, Mbale and the one in Gulu which is ready for commissioning next month.
According to Orem, the government has included all the projects of regional cancer centers in the national development plan III, to enable funding.
Orem said the Uganda Cancer Institute has got over 85% of the medication needed for treating cancer. He said with this enhancement, patients from Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda among other countries come in to access the state-of-the-art treatment.
As far as sensitization of the public about cancer is concerned, Orem said the percentage has increased from 2% in the early 2000s up to 10% as of today.
Meanwhile, Dr. Noleb Mugisha an oncologist at the Uganda Cancer Institute cited some of the most common cancer infections in Uganda as cancer of the cervix which covers over 40% of the cancer infections in Uganda killing 4,301 people annually.
Other common cancers include cancer of the prostate, Kaposi sarcoma cancer which affects the skin, lungs and intestines, as well as cancer of the breast which he says also occurs among men.
According to the world cancer research fund, by 2020 there was an estimation of 18.1 million cancer cases around the world. Of these, 9.3 million cases were in men and 8.8 million in women.