By Hon. Dr. Rwakana Rugunda
We are gathered here today to witness great steps in the fight against cancer disease in the country; the development of critical infrastructure, including completion of construction and equipping of the cancer ward and the start of the construction of radiotherapy bunkers.
As we know, cancer is increasingly being recognized as an important global health problem that kills more people worldwide than HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. This has a significant health impact on Uganda and the well-being of our nation.
Every year the disease burden is increasing. For every 100,000 persons in this country, 300 will be new cancer patients. These new cases are added to already existing cases, creating very high prevalence of cancer. In addition, I have been informed that the death rate among cancer patients is very high– about 80% of newly diagnosed cancer patients die within one year of diagnosis. This high death rate is due to late-stage diagnosis of the disease and the lack of access to adequate cancer care.
The economic burden of cancer for Uganda is high. A majority of our cancer patients are relatively young compared to those in developed countries. We are losing people to cancer who are in the prime of their lives.
There is a great need to combat this challenge. By having in place infrastructure for care and ensuring that there are adequate human resources for cancer treatment, in order to effectively handle this challenge.
I’m delighted to note that the ministry of health is addressing the great need for an effective cancer service in this country. A comprehensive cancer care centre is being developed, comprising all modalities for cancer management as a one stop centre.
A comprehensive service network is also in development with a referral system in line with the priorities set by government of Uganda.
I wish to assure Ugandans that the NRM Government prioritizes the fight against cancer. This is evidenced by the establishment of a separate vote for the Uganda Cancer Institute in FY 2009/10 and the rapid rise in the budget provision for Uganda Cancer Institute from 2 billion shillings in 2009 to over 41 billion next FY 2016/2017.
While we are here to celebrate the groundbreaking, specifically on the need for radiotherapy services, government has taken note of the gross shortage of radiotherapy facilities in the country. Thus the construction of these six bunkers is a vital step in alleviating this shortage of capacity to manage cancer disease using radiation. The commitment to provide funds amounting to 25 billion shillings for the construction of these bunkers is another clear testimony of Government’s commitment to the fight against cancer.
I call upon ROKO and all those involved in this project to expedite the process of constructing these bunkers without compromising on quality. I urge you to work day and night to complete these bunkers in record time because Ugandans are waiting and counting days and months left to completion.
Government is committed to providing modern high technology radiotherapy equipment to be installed in these bunkers as soon as construction is completed. Government will provide timely funding for the needed equipment using both domestic and externally sought financing. Negotiations to obtain extra funding and modern equipment with support from Austria is in advanced stages and will be concluded soon.
Government appreciates support from our partners in the development of the Uganda Cancer Institute including the Austrian based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the US based Fred Hutchson Center, the Case Western Reserve University, the African Development Bank (ADB) and many others.
We recall that the Uganda Cancer Institute has made important cancer discoveries in the past. These contributions have received international acclaim and made our country proud.
We are glad that the East African Community is establishing a regional centre of excellency for oncology in Uganda at the Uganda Cancer Institute with a loan from ADB. It is also gratifying to know that the Virtual University for Cancer Control (VUCCnet) is being established at the UCI by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Government will do whatever it takes to support the Institute given its strategic importance in control and prevention of cancer in Uganda and beyond.
I’m glad the institute is involved in innovative partnership that has brought along infrastructure development. Government will ensure that the Uganda Cancer Institute bill which has been passed by both Cabinet and Parliament is quickly operationalized.
Finally, I wish to reiterate that the NRM Government places special emphasis on prevention and early detection in the fight against cancer and I urge the Ministry of Health to step up efforts in that direction besides enhancing quality care for cancer patients.
I offer my congratulations to the Uganda Cancer Institute for dedicated service to improving the health and well-being of cancer patients in Uganda and the region and for registering today’s achievements.