By Sandra Kahumuza
Ariye Rose (not real names) from Adjumani had just completed her University degree in Veterinary medicine. She was one of a few beneficiaries of a government of Uganda university bursary targeting bright but disadvantaged students, A routine medical checkup as part of an interview process for Rose’ dream job was to later become the beginning of a nightmare.
“I still remember that day very well; it was March 18, 2016. The doctor told me that a test result for a swelling on my left breast had turned out cancerous,” Rose said. In July 2018, she was completing her final stages of chemotherapy. But Rose’s woes were not over yet. Uganda’s only radiotherapy machine had broken down, leaving many patients stranded for the most part of 2016.
The broken radiotherapy machine is just a tip of the iceburg in Uganda’ fight against cancer, in addition to other diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. According to the Kampala Data Registry, there were 320 newly diagnosed cancer cases for every 100,000people, with an 80% mortality rate.
‘’For the patients who are already receiving treatment from the Institute, we have reached the mark of over 48,000 visits per year. This number is quite high,”said Dr. Jackson Orem, the executive director of Uganda Cancer Institute.
With a 4% access rate to care, a weak health sector and a country with high rates of poverty, social and economic factors are often the biggest challenge to the fight against cancer in Uganda. But against all odds, there are still some islands of success in the fight against cancer that can be studied and replicated in other parts of Uganda.
Namganda Juliet (not real names) has now been living at a special home for children with cancer for three months with her oldest son Mukasa John. Akiba home, one of the facilities run by Bless a Child Foundation, located in Makerere-Kikoni of Kampala, provides a clean, hygienic environment where children with cancer and their parents or caregivers are given shelter, meals, physical care, play therapy and recreational facilities.
‘’I had given up on Mukasa, because the treatment of this disease (cancer) had made me very poor. After coming here (Akiba home), I know that even if my child does not make it, he will leave this world a happy boy with dignity,” Namganda said.
Luckily for Mukasa, Mukasa suffers from Burkitts Lymphoma, a curable form of cancer and is responding well to treatment, according to Doctor Edward of the Bless a Child Foundation,
Bless a Child Foundation provides care support services to children from the ages of 0 to 12 years suffering from cancer and related infections and ensures that all pediatric cancer patients referred access the proper diagnosis and cancer treatment required.
Children referred to Bless a Child Foundation are often from impoverished families where often access to both treatment and supportive care including feeding and psychosocial support are compounded by lack of or limited resources.
Limited knowledge and awareness of causes, treatment options and treatment facilities for cancer makes survival from cancer for poor households with children a far-away dream.
The biggest value add that organizations such as Bless a Child Foundation have is in providing specialized treatment for children and their needs and most importantly in providing an enabling environment to children and care givers. Studies have shown that such care is responsible for over 60% of recovery processes for patients. Additionally, dignity is an important virtue.