Cancer patients stranded as radiation machines pack up

THE breakdown of radiation machines at Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo and Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals in Harare is putting the lives of cancer patients at risk, an official has said
Mpilo clinical oncologist Tatenda Chingozoh yesterday said one machine out of the two available was working.

BY PATRICIA SIBANDA

Chingozoh said patients from Harare and surrounding provinces were being referred to Mpilo for radiation, so there is a backlog of six weeks which affects treatment because cancer grows aggressively if treatment is discontinued.

“We are failing to keep up so our waiting list is growing because the machines are not serviced.

The machines need to be serviced so that those breakdowns do not occur. Currently, our waiting times are now going to six weeks for radiotherapy,” he said, without disclosing the number of patients on the list.

“With the Harare machines down, we are treating the Harare patients and Bulawayo patients. The Pari machines are currently down. They are working on getting them up. It’s the same issues of no service contract and the need to upgrade our software and hardware which is what we are also trying to do so that we do not get into the same situation as Parirenyatwa.”

“But even without the Harare patients, our waiting list continues to grow because the other machine is currently down. So we are currently relying on one.”

Chingozoh said the machines are always giving them headaches.

“We cannot treat as many patients as we should when machines are efficiently working. Not everything is electricity. Parts need to be replaced. We have components that need regular servicing and change, but without a service contract of every little thing, it’s a huge cost for the engineer to come and do even minor repairs,” he said.

He said because engineers are regional it also increased costs for the referral centre.

“Any minor breakdown means the hospital has to incur the costs to bring in Varian engineers from South Africa, the manufacturers of the machine and it’s a great cost,” he said.

“If we have a service contract, any minor breakdown will be a matter of picking up the phone and instruct us on what to do or immediately fly over to fix them so that patients’ treatment is not interrupted because breaking radiotherapy treatment means the disease starts to spread faster.”

Mpilo is currently working on expanding its chemotherapy unit to accommodate more patients and ensure they have privacy.

Health ministry secretary Agnes Mahomva said they were seized with the machine breakdown matter.

She said the ministry was apprised on the issues by Mpilo chief executive Leonard Mabhandi during his visit to Harare recently.

“We discussed the issue of upgrading the software and all that needs to be done. Moving forward, our plans and policies should be that when we get this equipment, it should not come without a service contract it does not make sense,” she said.

“With the old equipment, we just have to manage and see what we can do to ensure that you continue to see your patients. I am happy that at least one machine is working which enables you to continue seeing your patients. We were concerned when we heard that there is nothing happening, but you are telling us you are seeing your patients.”

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