Malawians seeking radiotherapy treatment within the country have to wait for eight months despite the national cancer centre being built in Lilongwe being 90 percent complete.
Ministry of Health (MoH) said construction of the bunker to install the radiotherapy and chemotherapy unit is yet to start, but will take six months to be completed.
In an interview last week, MoH spokesperson Joshua Malango said 90 percent of the works at the cancer centre located at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) are completed. He said that currently the centre is being furnished.
He said: “About 90 percent of the work is done. We are only remaining with the bunkers that house radiotherapy equipment, but currently we are installing and buying some equipment and furniture.
“We have plans to move the oncology unit/ward at KCH to be operating from the new centre while the contractor is working on finalising the bunkers.”
Malango said it has taken long to construct the bunkers because there were many studies undertaken before proceeding with the construction.
Currently, radiotherapy treatment for cancer is not locally available in Malawi. Cancer patients in need of the service access it abroad, mostly in India and South Africa.
Radiotherapy involves the use of high-energy particles or waves to destroy or damage cancer cells. Radiation is delivered using special equipment that sends high doses of radiation to the cancer cell or tumour.
Existing oncology wards at public hospitals such as KCH and Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre plus a few private hospitals only offer chemotherapy.
Malawi Health Equity Network (Mehn) executive director George Jobe said it was good news that the centre is at 90 percent completion rate, but finalising it early will save many lives and resources.
“Many cancer patients should start accessing services and save,” he said.
The Malawi Government spends about K1 billion annually for referral treatment abroad. Out of the amount, 40 percent is spent on referrals for cancer treatment. Thus, the coming into operation of the cancer centre is expected to initiate savings.
The cancer centre is being constructed with a $13 million (about K10 billion) loan from Opec Fund for International Development (Ofid). The Malawi Government will also make financial contributions as per Ofid’s loan conditions.
The need for the national cancer centre came after research conducted by MoH established that less than five percent of cancer patients in Malawi had access to radiotherapy treatment.
In addition, the research found that there were 10 300 cancer cases presented to public hospitals in 2009, which is currently on the rise and patients have to travel to South Africa or India to receive treatment.