By Nasser Kasozi Akandwanaho
The Deputy Speaker of Parliament Thomas Tayebwa has directed the management of Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) to investigate reports that staff were sending patients to buy medicines from private pharmacies
Tayebwa who was on a guided tour at Uganda Cancer Institute on Tuesday, November 29, said he had received concerns that the Cancer Institute, a full government facility was frequently sending patients and caretakers to private facilities to buy specialized cancer medicines yet government provides funding for free medicines.
“We have received very many complaints from patients here who say you send them out to buy very expensive medicines yet I have been told that the medicines are free and that we have all of them,” the deputy speaker said, directing UCI to investigate and punish all those involved in extortion syndicates at the hospital.
“I want to send a message to Ugandans who are complaining that I have confirmed today that the government has provided all the funding necessary to buy the medicines for cancer for the patients who come here,” he said.
Tayebwa also urged the government to regulate some of the medicines in the country.
During the tour at the Institute, the deputy speaker said he had been impressed by the ongoing works at the facility and said Parliament would appropriate accordingly to address the funding gaps raised by officials.
Prof William Bazeyo, the UCI board chairperson admitted that money is being charged from patients but only at a VIP wing of the facility.
“We have a VIP [wing] where we charge a minimum fee but it is your choice to go to that wing,” Prof Bazeyo said, noting that, “for every patient that comes to the institute for all their laboratory tests, X-rays, chemotherapy or drugs, are all free,” Prof. Bazeyo said.
He also said that there’s no consultation fee for consultants because they don’t operate as private.
“Ugandans should know that we have free services. At this cancer institute, we received patients from all over the country and those who are saying that they’re charged, they should come out instead of hiding under social media.”
Patients at UCI compete for space with some sleeping in corridors and outside while others share wards despite their sex.
Over 80 percent of cancer patients in Uganda die due to late diagnosis.
By the time they are found to have cancer, it has spread and ground to stages it can’t be treated and a life saved.
Dr. Jackson Orem, the UCI Executive Director told reporters that lack of funding is delaying the efforts to decentralize cancer treatment in Uganda.
He said that until they have regional centers where some patients can be attended to, they cannot turn away patients seeking treatment.
Currently, the government is expanding care infrastructure at the Mulago campus with the construction of a new 8-level inpatient building, a six-level two-block with funding from the African Development Bank-ADB.
When complete, Dr. Orem said the facility will house a cancer laboratory, MRI, cancer surgical suites, outpatient clinics, and Intensive Care Unit-ICU among many other facilities to improve patient care
“The building that we have already started which we need to complete will help to house inhouse patients and a theatre,” Dr. Orem said, adding that funding is very critical.
The Uganda Cancer Institute is a public, specialized, tertiary care medical facility owned by the Uganda Ministry of Health.
The Institute offers; chemotherapy, childhood cancer treatment, adult cancer treatment, cancer screening, cancer surgery, radiotherapy, palliative care, imaging, and cancer information. The UCI diagnoses over 30,000 new cases of cancer in the country every year.
The most common cancers in Uganda include; cancer of the breast, cancer of the cervix, kaposis sarcoma, cancer of the prostate, cancer of the ovary, cancer of the liver, leukemia, cancer of the colon, Burkitt’s lymphoma, and others.