Friday, January 19, 2018

Capitalism is a cancer

In 2006, Monica Kyotazala was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and her body shows the physical ravages of the condition. Painfully thin and with a faltering voice, she explains how she went without adequate medical treatment for close to two years, after Uganda's only radiotherapy machine broke down. After the machine failed, doctors prescribed two doses of chemotherapy for Ms Kyotazala.

"I didn't have the money," she says, beginning to cry. "I spent a month without getting the treatment. My children were trying to raise the money. So I survived on just morphine, for the pain. I had to go back home and wait."

At the Uganda Cancer Institute at the Mulago National Referral Hospital, radiotherapy is free, but chemotherapy and other cancer treatments are not. The cheapest dose of chemotherapy costs around 300,000 Uganda shillings ($85; £60). More expensive treatments cost as much as 1m shillings ($280; £205), says Rose Kiwanuka, head of the Palliative Care Association of Uganda.
"Sometimes patients cannot even find all the doses prescribed at the national hospital," she adds. "They would have to buy them from private pharmacies if they are in stock, and then bring the drugs to the doctors. That just goes to show the need for radiotherapy."
Those who could afford it went abroad for treatment, including to Kenya and India. Those who couldn't had to pay for alternative forms of treatment, or wait in distress. Some got worse and died.
Friday marks the official unveiling of Uganda's new Cobalt 60 radiotherapy machine. Its predecessor failed in April 2016, after 21 years in operation. The arrival of the new machine is potentially life-saving, even if it remains the only one for a country of more than 40 million people. "Globally, in the best-case scenario, for every 250,000 people you should have one radiotherapy machine," says Dr Jackson Orem, a senior oncologist and director of the Uganda Cancer Institute. He says that even having one machine for 500,000, or one million, people would help.

No comments: