Kampala. The newly-installed Cobalt60 cancer treatment machine has again developed technical glitches, hardly two months after its repair following a similar breakdown in June this year.
This has forced the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) to halt all radiotherapy services, catching patients by surprise and, for some, without alternative.
Some of the affected patients said the machine stopped working on Tuesday, but UCI spokesperson Christine Namulindwa said the machine functioned until Wednesday.
Health workers asked patients they turned away to return next week when they expect the machine to be fixed.
“I had gone back [on Tuesday] for my second appointment when they told me the machine was faulty. I do not have any other medicine; it is the only treatment I am using for now,” said a cervical cancer patient, who asked not to be named for fear of possible retribution.
Other patients complained of the financial costs they are going to incur since it means remaining around the hospital until the machine resumes operations.
“We do not have food to eat during our stay here and neither do we have enough transport to take and bring us back. Most of us come from far places,” Mr Ronald Magezi, a patient who hails from Ntungamo District, said.
Officials at UCI this time were first to announce that the Cobalt machine had malfunctioned and patients would not be able to get treatment until an expert sent by the manufacturer in Czech Republic flies in to resolve the problem.
This modern Cobalt 60 machines directs high doses of radiation energy to kill cancer cells, making it more effective and efficient than previous version that broke down beyond repair in 2016.
“The computer system that operates the machine is currently showing error and this requires the machine to be stopped to have the problems rectified,” the UCI director, Dr Jackson Orem, said in a press statement issued yesterday.
“There are currently about 50 patients scheduled to receive treatment. Given that the machine handles more than 150 patients per day, the current number on waiting list will be handled in one day once the machine resumes normal operations,” he added.
Dr Orem also told the general public that the institute’s management had already contacted the manufacturer and the machine would be repaired and start operating normally in a week.
The same machine purchased at Shs2.7b first broke down early this year, hardly six months after its installation last December.
Mr Eddie Mwebesa, the chief executive director of Hospice-Uganda, an NGO that offers palliative care to patients with advanced cancers, said: “Our patients have faced inevitable delays which makes us incur both direct and indirect costs.”
The old one had worked for more than 20 years. Uganda at the time stopped offering radiotherapy services for two years, referring patients for treatment in Kenya.
Although government had earlier promised that it would have imported a more advanced linear accelerator cancer machine this month, UCI in yesterday’s statement noted that the machine, and another Cobalt 60 one from India are expected in about four months’ time.