The burden of cancers in Uganda will increase by around 40 percent in 2030 due to changes in risk factors and population growth, researchers at the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) have warned.
This information is contained in a 2022 report by nine researchers from UCI, Makerere University, America and South Korea.
In specific terms, the report, whose lead author is Judith Asasira from UCI, indicates that “cervical, breast and prostate cancer incidence was projected to increase by 35 percent, 57.7 percent and 33.4 percent, respectively.”
Experts warn that the surge will knock Uganda sideways not least because there are limited facilities established by the government to care for cancer patients. The UCI is the only centre in the country that offers comprehensive cancer care. The centre has recently made headline news over its failure to accommodate patients who are waiting for the next cycle of treatment.
Dr Nixon Niyonzima, the head of research and training at UCI, said they are registering increases in the number of cancer patients.
The centre handles around 65,000 patients annually. The average number of new cases of children and adults with cancer registered at the facility increased from 3,500 in 2015 to 7,400 in 2021.
Uganda registered nearly 32,617 new cases and 21,829 cancer deaths in Uganda as per Globocan, which is compiled under the auspices of the World Health Organisation. Just this year, the country has lost hotshots such as former House Speaker Jacob Oulanyah and former Security minister Gen Elly Tumwine to cancer.
Not all doom, gloom
It’s not all doom and gloom as the 2022 report also indicates that the incidence rates of cancers like Kaposi sarcoma (KS) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) in Uganda will decrease.
Aged eight, Moses Echodu was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, a rare but fast-growing cancer, whose overall four-year survival rate in Uganda is only 44 percent. Echodu, who is now 32 years old, was, however, lucky to survive the disease after being treated with an experimental drug at Uganda Cancer Ward at Mulago hospital in 1999.
This was before UCI became an independent government entity. Back then, diagnosis and treatment options were scarce. For Echodu, who started experiencing the symptoms one evening after a football match with his friends, the future initially looked bleak.
“I was that young stubborn child, jumping around all over the place, and helping my grandmother in the garden, and taking care of the cattle,” he recalls, adding, “I would go out with friends, dive into rivers and wells, play football and the sorts.”
But after a particular football match, he was limping.
He says: “I thought it was just fatigue.”
The next morning, he still had the limp. So, he informed his grandmother, who almost immediately commenced malaria treatment.
“But there was no change,” Echodu remembers, adding, “So my mother was contacted and she brought me on the bus to St Francis Hospital Nsambya [in Kampala] and the doctor told me I had rotten vertebrae.”
After what should have been a routine operation, Echodu spent two weeks in excruciating pain at the hospital. Midway, he got paralysed.
“They had to put a tube in me to draw the pus in me, and after that, I went into paralysis. I tried to get up and I failed. My mother was in tears,” he said.
Nsambya hospital referred him to Uganda Cancer Ward at Mulago when his condition worsened.
“Here, they carried out a test and discovered that I had Burkitt lymphoma. At the hospital, lucky enough, they were in the final stage of the clinical trial for a drug. So my mother accepted that they test the drug on me. The treatment was successful,” he said.