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Uganda's only radiotherapy unit breaks

BBC News BBC News 8/04/2016
Cancer ceels: Radiotherapy targets cancerous cells and can be used for treating many types of cancer © AFP Radiotherapy targets cancerous cells and can be used for treating many types of cancer

Uganda's only radiotherapy machine used for treating cancer is broken beyond repair, the country's main cancer unit says.

This leaves thousands unable to get potentially life-saving treatment.

The cancer unit at Mulago Hospital in the capital, Kampala, is now looking for $1.8m (£1.3m) to buy a new machine.

It gets 44,000 new referrals a year from Uganda, as well as from neighbouring countries including Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

Around 75% of these may require radiotherapy, the unit's spokesperson Christine Namulindwa told the BBC on the phone from Kampala.

"It's really, really a hard time," she added, "[and] it's having an impact on our patients, as the treatment is often required."

More on this and other African news stories

Radiotherapy uses radiation to target and kill cancerous cells in a specific part of the body, and can be used for many types of cancer.

Healthy cells can recover from this damage, while cancer cells cannot.

The machine at Mulago Hospital was second hand when it was donated in 1995 and has been repaired several times in the past.

But efforts to fix it this time have failed, Ms Namulindwa said.

The cancer unit is currently talking to the ministry of health to find a way to buy a new machine, but it is not clear when that will happen.

In the meantime, patients are still able to get other treatments, such as chemotherapy and surgery, but if they need radiotherapy, and they can afford it, they will have to travel to neighbouring Kenya.

The incidence of cancer is on the rise in Africa overall as life expectancy increases.

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