Govt should build more cancer treatment centres
THE cancer treatment centre at Mpilo Central Hospital nearly became another Ekusileni Medical Centre, Bulawayo’s biggest white elephant that hasn’t worked since it was built in 2000.
It is painful to see an architectural masterpiece such as Ekusileni lying idle as it has over the past 16 years. The pain is not only with regards to its beauty physically, but the criticality of the service it is meant provide. Ekusileni Medical Centre, a brainchild of the late Vice-President Joshua Nkomo was designed to provide specialist medical services near the people and at affordable charge. Instead of patients incurring huge costs travelling to Harare or to South Africa to be treated for various complex conditions, the late visionary wanted them to get the service here in Bulawayo. We regret that his vision remains a mirage. We nearly had our second health sector white elephant at Mpilo Central Hospital whose cancer treatment centre had not worked since it was built and equipped four years ago. As it lay idle many cancer patients were being forced to travel to Harare weekly to be treated. This is costly if we consider the money one has to pay to go to the capital weekly for treatment. It is more costly if we consider the time one has to spend travelling back and forth.
It is sad to say that some cancer patients may have found these expenses too much and suffered in their penury, some actually losing their lives.
Next month the cancer treatment centre at Mpilo Central Hospital will start operating, giving hope to patients from Matabeleland provinces who have suffered without such a facility nearby.
A cancer computed tomography (CT) scan and a cancer treatment machine have been installed at the hospital’s radiotherapy centre.
With the machinery having been installed, the hospital is awaiting a licence from the Radiation Protection Authority of Zimbabwe for the centre to start operating. The licence that the hospital is waiting for is an important one without which any medical facility geared towards treating cancer cannot legally operate. However, we have no doubt that the licence will be granted thus can confidently state that the centre would be operational come December.
Mr Leonard Mabhandi, the newly appointed chief executive officer for Mpilo Central Hospital must be commended for working to ensure that the cancer treatment facility begins operating. This must rank as one of his biggest, if not biggest, achievement since he was recently confirmed in that top position at Mpilo.
Indeed he has a lot of work to do at the hospital, to clean up the rot that nearly brought it down. Corruption was endemic at the hospital during the tenure of Dr Lawrence Mantiziba as chief executive. Large sums of money were lost to a few thieving executives who were later sacked. With so much effort in lining up their pockets, we doubt that the old order saw the cancer treatment centre, or general service delivery as important at Mpilo.
Apart from the new chief executive, the local political leadership must be commended also for putting pressure on the authorities to get the cancer treatment centre online.
One of the politicians, former Deputy Speaker of the Senate, Cde Naison Khutshwekhaya Ndlovu, a prostate cancer patient, spoke in an interview with this paper last week on Wednesday, of the frustration of having to travel frequently to Harare for treatment yet Mpilo is equipped for the same service.
“The late VP (John) Nkomo had cancer and had to go to Cape Town when we had qualified doctors here with machinery. Now that the machines have been installed, the people from Victoria Falls, Beitbridge, and Gwanda will all come here for treatment and save costs. We are like smart toddlers here in Bulawayo because we do not cry in fear of bothering those in leadership. We had machines but we never questioned why they were not being installed,” he said. We thank Cde Ndlovu for the effort. Having said that, we must highlight the traditional challenge that cancer patients have had to contend with the high costs involved in accessing treatment.
Statistics made available a few months ago indicate that radiotherapy in the private sector costs between $3 000 and $4 000 for an entire course, while chemotherapy sessions cost between $100 and $1 000 per cycle, depending on the stage which the cancer has reached. Not many cancer patients can afford this. Cancer has become the biggest killer disease in the country in recent years, chiefly because of the astronomical costs a patient must bear to be treated. It is also to do with late diagnosis and lack of specialist medical services. Often the condition is detected late when the cancer has progressed so far that medical treatment cannot curb it. Cancers have overtaken HIV and Aids as the biggest killer in the country, having accounted for 10 percent of the 138 000 deaths caused by non-communicable diseases in 2014.
This is why we want the cancer treatment centre at Mpilo to be operational. It is one of the only two facilities in the country that offer free cancer treatment. Given the high costs that private hospitals charge, we urge the Government to build more centres apart from the Mpilo one and the one at Harare’s Parirenyatwa Hospital. These two cannot adequately serve the growing population of people suffering from the various cancers that are coming up.