By Joe Dinga Pefok
The Radiotherapy and Oncology Service at the Douala General Hospital (a specialist hospital), the only major cancer treatment centre in a public hospital in the entire Central Africa Sub-region, is back in full force following the acquisition and installation of the Radioactive Source Cobalt 60, which expired on February 28, 2021, partially paralysing the centre (The Post No. 2165 Friday, March 5, 2021).
At a press briefing at the Douala General Hospital on Thursday, October 21, 2021, the Managing Director of the hospital, Prof Henry Namme Luma, announced that, after months of waiting, a new Radiotherapy Source has been made available and ready to serve cancer patients. He said the acquisition has again placed the Douala General Hospital as the leading cancer treatment centre among public hospitals in the entire Central Africa Sub-region.
The Radiotherapy and Oncology Service at the Douala General Hospital does not only receive cancer patients from across the country, but also from other countries in the Central Africa Sub-region.
Centre Only Slowed Down Operation
The Managing Director of the Douala General Hospital remarked at the October 21 press briefing that some cancer patients staged a protest at the hospital last Match 1, after the Radioactive Source expired. Interesting enough, over 20 of those cancer patients attended the October 21 press briefing to listen to the good news. They all expressed gratitude to the Cameroon Government and the authorities of the Douala General Hospital.
Meanwhile, the Managing Director, Prof Luma, who was assisted at the press briefing by the head of the Radiotherapy and Oncology Service at the hospital, Dr Martin Essomba, said that, contrary to the information that circulated, the Cancer Treatment Centre at the hospital was not shut down after the expiration date of the Radioactive Source Von February 28.
Corroborating the Managing Director, Dr Martin Essomba, explained that, when the Radioactive Source Cobalt 60 which expires after five years in service gets to its expiry date, it does not mean that it would immediately stop functioning or rendering service. He said, after the expiry date, the Radioactive Source Cobalt 60 still effectively works for some time, only that it becomes very slow, and so the machine in which the Radioactive Source is installed can only effectively serve a quarter of patients it used to serve a day.
Radioactive Source Serves 120 Patients A Day
Dr Essomba disclosed that the Radioactive Source machine at Radiotherapy and Oncology Service, commonly known as the Cancer Treatment Centre at the Douala General Hospital, was normally serving as many as 120 cancer patients a day. But, as from March 1, 2021, up till the installation of the new Radioactive Source Cobalt 60, it could only serve 30 cancer patients a day.
Dr Essomba however explained that, besides the Radioactive Source Cobalt 60, there are two other methods by which cancer patients are treated. He said the two other therapies were thus also used to the patients when the Radioactive Source became slow.
Dr Essomba admitted that the expiry of the Radioactive Source was a big headache for the Cancer Treatment Centre because a majority of cancer patients at the centre are normally treated by the Radioactive Source. After all, it is rapid, as it is used to treat 70 percent of patients at the centre.
International Agency Of Atomic Energy
Prof Henry Namme Luma and his collaborator, Dr Martin Essomba, dismissed allegations that the hospital could not acquire a new Radioactive Source Cobalt 60 before the expiry date because the Cameroon Government failed to allocate funds on time. The hospital officials explained that the process for the acquisition of a new Radioactive Source Cobalt 60 is a very complicated International issue, because of the fear that radioactive materials, which are very dangerous, could get into the hands of terrorists.
Prof Luma and Dr Essomba disclosed that the State of Cameroon buys the Radioactive Source Cobalt 60 and other related materials and equipment for the Radiotherapy and Oncology Service at the Douala General Hospital, in collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is done in line with a technical cooperation agreement that was signed between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Cameroon. Following the signing of the technical accord, Cameroon and the Agency jointly share the cost for re-equipping the Radiotherapy Service at the Douala General Hospital opened in February 1989.
It was as well disclosed that the Government sent the State of Cameroon’s share of money to the International Atomic Energy Agency in early 2019 for the acquisition of five new materials and equipment for the Radiotherapy and Oncology Service at the Douala General Hospital, after discussions for the acquisitions started in 2018.
It was disclosed that the first of the five items that Cameroon ordered, with the collaboration of the Atomic Energy Agency, was only received by the Douala General Hospital last August, while the new Radioactive Source Cobalt 60 was received on Friday, October 15 and rapidly installed on Monday, October 18.
The stringent measures involved in acquiring the equipment reportedly caused the delay.
State Subvention For 600 Patients
Prof Henry Namme Luma stated that, in line with the efforts being made to facilitate the access by cancer patients to Radiotherapy, the State of Cameroon elaborated a Strategic National Plan for the Fight Against Cancer from 2020 – 2024, with the mission to take holistic and optimal care of cancer patients, in line with the mission of a Cameroon of emergence by 2035.
Prof Henry Namme Luma announced that the Government has given two State subventions to the hospital, which will help 600 new cancer patients pay for as much as about 80 % of their treatment. He noted that a new cancer patient pays FCFA 180,000 for Radiotherapy. He explained that the 600 cancer patients to benefit from the subvention, will have to pay only FCFA 50,000 instead of FCFA 180,000. The news was received with a standing ovation by the dozens of cancer patients who showed up at the press briefing.
On the criteria that will be used to select the 600 cancer patients to benefit from the State subvention, Prof Luma said a patient has to be a Cameroonian and should be somebody without a health insurance policy.
Cancer Is Treatable
Dr Martin Essomba asserted that cancer is treatable if it is diagnosed early. He said the treatment for cancer by Radiotherapy takes five to seven weeks. One of the five materials and equipment for Radiotherapy that Cameroon set out to buy with the collaboration of the International Atomic Energy Agency is a simulator that indicates the treatment area on a cancer patient’s body.
Dr Essomba reiterated the importance of early detection and commencement of treatment, noting that any cancer patient who goes to the hospital after cancer has already spread in his or her body is certainly not going to the hospital for treatment, because such a case can no longer be treated.