Thousands of cancer patients are currently facing death nationwide, following a breakdown of all the radiotherapy machines at treatment centres in the country.
The development, which has persisted for years, has become unmanageable in the last few weeks as a result of alarm raised by patients and their relatives who throng the centres daily.
Vanguard gathered that the cancer machines at the National Hospital Abuja, NHA, Lagos University Teaching Hospitals, LUTH, University College Hospital, UCH, Ibadan, including others in health institutions in Gombe, Enugu, Benin, Sokoto among others, have been breaking down frequently due to wear and tear and lack of maintenance.
Findings revealed that managements of the affected hospitals are complaining of lack of money to buy forex and bring foreign experts to fix the machines.
For all the people, who have oncology problem today in the country, they may have to wait for a long time for their treatment to continue.
An oncology expert said a radiotherapy machine was the device commonly used for external beam radiation treatments for patients with cancer, adding that it was better for an oncology patient not to get radiation treatment than to get half dose or incomplete dosage.
He said: “If somebody is getting a radiation treatment and breaks, the cells will now build immunity and bounce back.”
At the NHA, it was gathered that the new Lineal Accelerator Machine procured in 2014 is still intact in the crate and there are fears that they may have gone bad under the condition they are kept.
Some of the patients who were in Abuja and LUTH said they had been turned back at three other tertiary hospitals where the cancer treatment machines had broken down.
Lamenting the excruciating pains they were going through, the patients feared they might not survive the ordeal as they could no longer tolerate the pain.
A patient at NHA disclosed to our reporter that his family was making plans to fly him to India for further treatment.
The patient said: “I may have to travel to India, where I can continue with the treatment. I was diagnosed in Sokoto State, but I was referred to Gombe State for radiotherapy sessions when the one in the state stopped working.
“I got to Gombe but their machine had broken down too. I was referred to the UCH, Ibadan, theirs was also not working. I came to LUTH on Monday, they said their machine is faulty. They told us they are working on it but for how long will we continue to wait?”
In a telephone interview with the Chief Medical Director, LUTH, Prof. Chris Bode, who admitted that the machines had been down for about two weeks, said it was a national problem.
Bode said: “For about two weeks now, no radiotherapy machine is working in Nigeria, because all the seven machines procured during the VAMED era at the end of their life span. They are no more being produced by the companies that produced them.”
Reacting on the condition of the machine at LUTH, he said: “We are working to repair it. We have brought engineers within 48 hours of breaking down. They are working on it, they are almost through, they needed some machine parts that we have ordered and they will come in very shortly.”
“It is a national problem. I am happy that the government, through the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, is working hard to give us a robust radiotherapy programme within the country.
“We have repaired them and they keep breaking down. I am not an engineer; I don’t know when it will be ready. It is an old machine, it will break down from time to time. We know it will also break down again. The machine is old.”
Also in a telephone chat, Chairman, National Programme on Cancer Management, Professor Francis Abayomi Durosimi Etti, who confirmed the situation, said there was palpable fear in the land over the fate of cancer patients, with the complete breakdown of all radiation machines in the country.
“It is so sad, it is a pity and it is a shame and I actually feel ashamed because all over the world we have so many machines even in one hospital compared to all the faulty ones we have all over the country,” he added.
Durosimi, who stressed the need to urgently fix the machines, added that they should be upgraded. “To the best of my knowledge, action is being taken in this direction. “I must admit that it is very sad. The problem is that those machines were old and then we have this erratic power supply and third, the humidity and dust are not helping.
“This is because they require certain conditions to get them operate optimally. The Linear Accelerator needs cooling system and this is something I believe can be fixed.
“I can tell you definitively from my knowledge, being a key player here that our government is doing a lot to get round the problem.”
He recommended that government should set up a task force to look into the solution.
“The task force will sit and identify how best to tackle the new thinking of cancer treatment in the world. We are hoping to launch the new Standard Operating System for treatment of cancers in the country at the next Cancer Summit holding in Abuja this October.
“The current situation whereby when a patient with tumour approaches a cancer centre and commences treatment would have to suspend treatment because the machines break down and cannot continue elsewhere because the guidelines for operations is not the same as the centre where he or she was receiving treatment is not good at all.
“With a unified guideline of Standard operations, it would be possible for a breast cancer or cervical cancer patient receiving treatment at one centre to continue elsewhere if there is some interruption in the centre without disrupting her procedure.
“It will take about $2m to get a brand new modern machine while the upgraded cobalt which is rugged and which we are used to here will cost about a million dollars.
“We have recommended that while government tries to fix some of the old machines because some are just having faults that can be remedied though all of the machines are old but can still be used,” he said.
Reacting to the development, the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, in a text message, said the Ministry had invited submissions from the two major producers of the machines, adding that there were plans to upgrade nine centres across the nation urgently.
“We have invited the two major producers of the machines. We want to upgrade nine centres across the nation urgently. Each centre will have two machines,” he said.
Management of cancer in Nigeria has remained a national scandal. It is estimated that over 100,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer yearly, while about 80,000 die from the disease.
Consequently, while 240 Nigerians die of the disease daily, 10 die every hour.
The country’s cancer death ratio of 4 in 5 affected persons is one of the worst in the world.
The grim statistics above accounts for the earnest quest by the 8th National Assembly to urgently tackle the dire health challenge.
By Sola Ogundipe and Chioma Obinna I Vanguard