By Thandeka Moyo
Ninety-nine percent of cancer patients in Zimbabwe cannot afford treatment which is only accessible from private institutions as Government- run hospitals have no functional radiotherapy machines.
Briefing members of the Senate Thematic Committee on Gender during a tour in Bulawayo recently, Mpilo Central Hospital head of radiotherapy department Dr Tatenda Chingonzoh said the situation was dire.
She added that the most affected patients were the ones who were already on treatment as interrupted treatment was more detrimental than not starting at all.
Mpilo last offered radiotherapy in November last year which forced patients to travel to Harare.
However, one of the three working machines in Harare has since broken down leaving patients stranded.
“We have managed to see 769 patients for the first quarter in 2019 but the sad thing is that we can only offer diagnostic services as our machines are always down. The situation is very sad because for some time we used to refer patients to Harare but now that all machines are down, 99 percent of cancer patients will suffer as they cannot afford private health care,” said Dr Chingonzoh.
She told Senators that despite the availability of other cancer treatment services like chemotherapy, members of the public were still forced to source US dollars to buy medication from pharmacies due to shortages in hospitals.
“Last year in November one of the machines broke down for four days after it was fixed due to a power outage and this put those already on treatment at risk. When we use radiotherapy to attack cancer cells they tend to come back more aggressively once treatment is interrupted,” Dr Chingonzoh said.
Radiotherapy treatment uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours and it also damages the DNA within cancer cells.
Officials said repairs will cost US$63 000 for the machine at Mpilo while the one at Parirenyatwa needs US$60 000.
The Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Obadiah Moyo, could not be reached for comment but last month during a tour at Mpilo, he said all was in place to restore the service.
“We are happy that there is progress to install the uninterrupted power supply batteries as a long term solution to the problem because most of these breakdowns are due to power cuts.
“The contractors said they would not do anything until the installation and there is progress towards the reintroduction of radiotherapy,” said Dr Moyo. The Chronicle