The Atomic Energy Council has confirmed that the Mulago Radiotherapy machine was condemned in July 2015 but continued to operate without a valid license.
According to one of the specialists at the council, Deo Ssekyanzi, they made recommendations after inspecting the machine but the Uganda Cancer Institute insisted on using it.
While appearing before parliament’s natural resources committee, the council explained that after the last inspection conducted in 2013, the machine has been running under dangerous mechanical condition.
Ssekyanzi further explains that the machine has been exposing both patients and doctors to very high levels of radiation because it was being operated manually.
About 2,000 cancer patients in need of radiotherapy treatment in Uganda will have to wait for about two years to receive relief from unbearable pain following a breakdown of an old Cobalt 60 radiotherapy machine last month.
The breakdown of the machine has caused national and international public outcry and has attracted widespread condemnation of government. Some sections of the public criticised government for failing to prioritise cancer treatment in the country following a Shs1.4 trillion supplementary budget passed by Parliament last week without funds dedicated to cancer.
At a hastily organised press conference by the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) on April 10th 2016, the Health Minister, Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, defended government for “astronomic budget increments to UCI.”
“From the 2014/15 budget, government gave UCI about Shs8 billion, Shs17 billion this financial year and in the financial year 2016/2017, government is going to give the cancer institute about Sh41b,” Dr Tumwesigye said.
He said government has already placed an order to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to replace the old Cobalt 60 machine installed 21 years ago.“There are different types of radiotherapy machines and what we have is an older model and there is another machine we are buying and I think a receipt has been provided to you. We will be bringing a Cobalt 60 Machine,” the minister said without being specific on the date.
Dr Tumwesigye said the new machine had been delayed by construction of a bunker to house it since the old one was found to have safety problems.
Terming the bunker construction process as complex, Dr. Jackson Orem, the director of the UCI, said it had taken about two years to have the designs of the bunker approved by IAEA since it uses nuclear and atomic technology.
Story By Samuel Ssebuliba