EDITORIAL COMMENT: Government must prioritise availability of radiotherapy machines

The Chronicle

Radiotherapy machines at Government hospitals are all down and cancer patients are now being forced to seek treatment at private hospitals where the cost is prohibitive.

According to reports, 99 percent of the cancer patients cannot afford the cost of treatment at private hospitals. 

Briefing members of the Senate Thematic Committee on Gender during a tour in Bulawayo, Mpilo Central Hospital head of radiotherapy department Dr Tatenda Chingonzoh said the situation was dire. 

Dr Chingonzoh said the worst affected were those already on treatment as interrupted treatment was more detrimental than not starting at all. 

Mpilo Central Hospital last offered radiotherapy in November last year and patients have since then been travelling to Harare to seek treatment.

The three machines that were working in Harare have since broken down and as such no Government hospital is offering radiotherapy treatment. 

Most patients have therefore stopped radiotherapy treatment because the cost is prohibitive at private hospitals. Dr Chingonzoh said when radiotherapy is used to attack cancer cells they tend to come back more aggressively once treatment is interrupted. 

Officials say US$63 000 is required to repair the machine at Mpilo Central Hospital while the one at Parirenyatwa group of hospitals needs US$60 000.

Dr Chingonzoh said Mpilo Central Hospital managed to see 769 patients during the first three months of this year but the sad thing is that the hospital can only offer diagnostic services as treatment requires machines which are down. 

This is the same challenge that hospitals in Harare are facing because their machines are also down. Four women die of cervical cancer in Zimbabwe daily and the disease burden has been worsened by high HIV prevalence.

This is a very alarming figure and something must be done to bring the figure down. 

What this means is that about 120 women die of cervical cancer every month and more than 1 400 every year.

Government concerned about these high figures, has partnered China to screen and treat women for cervical cancer which is fast overtaking HIV as the top killer in Zimbabwe.

The failure to repair radiotherapy machines is therefore a major stumbling block to fighting all forms of cancers. 

We want at this juncture to implore Government to prioritise the repair of these machines meant to save lives. The reality is that many cancer patients are dying at their homes and the worst affected are those that had started treatment. 

We also want to appeal to health partners to assist Government to avail more radiotherapy machines. The radiotherapy treatment should be decentralised to district level so that many patients can access the services at reduced cost. 

At present radiotherapy machines are only in Bulawayo and Harare and obviously the machines are overwhelmed by the numbers seeking treatment hence the constant breakdowns. 

All district hospitals should have radiotherapy machines. Cancer is said to be overtaking HIV as the top killer so there is need to provide more resources to fight cancer compared to what the country is availing to fight HIV/Aids. 

The First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has been on a crusade to educate women on cervical cancer and many women now appreciate the importance of being screened for cancer. What is painful is that those diagnosed with cancer cannot access treatment.