By Max Patrick Ocaido
Officials from Ministry of Health have hatched a move to ‘hijack’ pediatric cancer treatment from Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) with intention to hand the project to a foreign Non-Governmental Organization (NGO).
UCI was founded in 1967 with 20 beds, as the Lymphoma Treatment Center, to treat childhood lymphomas, predominantly Burkitt’s lymphoma, the most common childhood lymphoma in Uganda and endemic to tropical Africa. Since then UCI has continued to treat cancer in children and adults.
However, at the time when UCI is turning into an excellent center of cancer treatment in East Africa, sources have revealed that top officials from Ministry of Health are allegedly clandestinely working with an NGO- Baylor College of Children’s Foundation to frustrate UCI so that the NGO takes over treatment of cancer in children.
Mulago based Baylor College of Children’s Foundation is an NGO that provides health systems strengthening HIV prevention, HIV care and Treatment, Maternal and New Born Care.
“The rate of HIV in children is going down, so Baylor Uganda is working hard to take over the treatment of cancer in children from UCI. They are putting lots of pressure on Health minister [Jane Aceng] and PS [Diana Atwine] who seem to be succumbing to this pressure without weighing the repercussions,” an inside source said.
Apparently, the move is to discredit UCI as incompetent in treating cancer in children so that they (Baylor Uganda) take over despite having no experience or expertise in oncology treatment.
Sources have intimated to us that Health minister Aceng and PS Atwine are ‘blindly’ buying the idea to hand over children to Baylor Uganda for cancer treatment and the ministry is already looking for external funders to assist Baylor Uganda to construct and equip a new facility to handle children’s cancer and blood disorders. Currently, some of the children are already being treated there. Baylor Uganda has never handled any cancer related treatments or diagnosis except for HIV prevention, care and treatment in Ugandan children.
Kampala Post has seen a letter dated May 15, 2017, in which PS Atwine wrote to Netherlands Enterprise Agency seeking for co-funding to help Baylor Uganda construct a specialized Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Hospital on the Mulago Hospital Complex campus in Kampala. The hospital will be built adjacent to the pre-eminent School of Medicine of Makerere University College of Health Sciences.
“We are aware that the total cost of construction, training, maintenance and pre-operational costs for the hospital totals Euros44,360,394million and that if this DRIVE Grant is successful a “match” of this amount Euro23,776,961m is required. This “Match” will be shared between government of Uganda and Baylor Uganda (Euro10,000,000m),” Atwine’s letter reads in part.
Baylor Uganda has already been offered land by ministry of Health to construct the children’s cancer hospital. The said land belongs to UCI.
In a bid to popularize their motive, officials from Baylor Uganda last year attempted to convince MPs on the parliamentary committee on Health and subsequently met Speaker Rebecca Kadaga. The officials also met Prime Minister Rukutana Rugunda who found the matter controversial and rather referred them to the Health minister.
This move has been protested by top officials from UCI who think handing over children with cancer to inexperienced Baylor Uganda is suicidal and is intended to frustrate the fight against cancer scourge in the country.
In an interview, Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the senior public relations officer of Ministry of Health said that Baylor Uganda has for a long time had a working partnership with the Ministry, but ruled out allegations that the NGO will take over cancer treatment from UCI.
“Baylor Uganda has been around for some time and you may need to go and talk to their ED [Dr. Adeopata Kekitinwa] to find out what exactly they are doing. I know they deal with HIV, but you know that there are some cancers that are related with HIV/AIDs like Kaposi Sarcoma. So you may find that is what they are treating and not entirely taking charge of cancer treatment in children,” Ainebyoona said. Efforts to reach UCI Director, Dr Jackson Orem and Baylor ED, Dr. Kekitinwa were futile.
Recently, The East African Community (EAC) identified and approved UCI as centre of excellence for training, research and treatment of cancer in East Africa.
While presenting a report on the current state of the health sector in Uganda on Tuesday, Minister Aceng said that the institute has established and continues to develop training programs to train specialists locally including in Pediatric Oncology, Medical Oncology, Gynecologic Oncology, Hematology and Oncology Nursing.
“183 students have been funded to pursue different courses in cancer related disciplines including 14 specialist oncology fellowships and 10 PhDs. Government acquired a loan of $38million to address training of specialists, procurement of specialized cancer equipment and construction of a centre of excellence,” Aceng said.
Last year, the UCI commissioned a new Cobalt-50 Radiotherapy Machine and is constructing 5 more radiotherapy bunkers which will house 4 Linear Accelerators, 2 brachytherapy to improve the radiotherapy services. This construction is expected to be completed by close of this year.