ZIO MWALE, Lusaka
THOUGH Cancer may be dimmed incurable in the eyes of many Zambians due to lack of quality treatment in the country, a few who have undergone treatment at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) Cancer Diseases Hospital (CDH) had a chance of surviving the ailment.
Ruth Lungu, 39, of Lusaka’s Bauleni compound, is testimony to this after she was cured from breast cancer upon undergoing chemotherapy in 2016 at CDH.
In 2014, she could feel that something was wrong but paid no attention until she began experiencing water discharge on her left breast.
“When I saw this, I visited Bauleni clinic on several occasions until later they referred me for check-ups to UTH, where I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Ms Lungu explained.
Ms Lungu said she did not know anything about cancer then but after the doctors explained to her, she was filled with so much fear and thought she was going to die.
However, with time and intensive counselling by nurses and doctors, Ms Lungu understood her condition and was ready to undergo treatment but commencement delayed due to limited staff at the hospital.
“I remember my treatment delayed due to inadequate staff, instead of commencing treatment in March, mine started in June because doctors already had appointments with other patients,” she explained.
Even though Ms Lungu’s treatment commenced late, it was successful and she has now become a dedicated community counsellor offering counselling to women and girls on cancer.
In her counselling, she encourages women to be screened for all forms of cancer early in order to protect themselves from the disease.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) records that CDH has for the past ten years diagnosed and treated about 16, 000 people in the country.
The organisation also records that the hospital has inadequate staff.
In a bid to cope with the chronic lack of cancer treatment and inadequate number of oncologists (cancer doctors) at CDH, the Ministry of Health (MOH) recently introduced special training for oncologists at UTH.
The training follows the project launched by MOH to expand cancer treatment services throughout the country.
CDH’s senior medical superintendent Lewis Banda said that CDH has witnessed an increasing number of cancer cases since the hospital opened and this has alarmed Government to start training medical personnel in Radiation and Medical oncology to provide specialised services for patients.
“Before CDH’s existence, patients who could not afford private care could either join the long waiting list for treatment in Zimbabwe or South Africa,” he said.
He added that even though the hospital has inadequate staff, the management tries by all means to help out cancer patients throughout the country.
“The training will start next year January and we shall enrol according to qualifications,” he said.
Through all this, the IAEA will be helping Zambia to prepare for this expansion through expert advice and training of the medical personnel.
Dr Banda explained that the training will help improve services at the hospital and also lead to the decentralisation of services offered by the hospital into other provinces.
“When we train oncologists, the ministry will deploy some staff in different towns to expand cancer services,” he said.
“Next year the hospital will start enrolling students in oncology. We want to improve our services because currently we are under-staffed,” Mr Banda said.
He added that the training of the oncologists will enable the government to deploy trained oncologists to at least 10 centres across the country.
The agency, through its Technical Co-operation Programme, has been supporting the hospital since the CDH planning began in 2002.
From inception in July 2007, the CDH is the first and only cancer treatment centre offering radiation therapy in the country of over 14 million people.
Chief radiation therapist James Sichone explained that this will be the first local medical training school to offer oncologist services and the IAEA will play an important role.
The IAEA also contributes to the design of the facility, arranging the training for medical professionals and assisting in the establishment of radiation protection measures for patients and staff.
“The training will be done right here at CDH. We have lecture theatres where we will be conducting lessons for the students,” he said.
He added that it is a good approach because students training will be able to extend services to the patients.
“All along we have been sending our staff to South Africa to train in oncology, this step will reduce some of the expenses Government had to incur,” he said.