The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) this week signed a grant agreement with our Ministry of Health to support radiotherapy training workshops for cancer treatment professionals at the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI).
The five-month long training will be carried out by experts from Varian, a California-based cancer care company that provides training, software and high-tech equipment including linear accelerators to plan and deliver cancer treatments.
In return, the American company is expected to sell its cancer treatment equipment to Uganda.
This was confirmed in a statement from the US Embassy in Kampala which indicated that while the training will improve the quality of cancer treatment in Uganda, it will open market access opportunities U.S. companies and may lead to new export opportunities.
Varian, a California-based company claims to be the world’s leading manufacturer of medical devices and software for treating cancer and other medical conditions with radiotherapy, radiosurgery, proton therapy, and brachytherapy.
The interest in Uganda by the American companies comes in the wake of the dramatic increase in cancer cases in Uganda in recent years vis-a-vis very limited treatment and care options in the country. According to information from the Ministry of Health, the burden of cancer in Uganda is estimated at 800,000 cases, out of which only about a third of them manage to access treatment.
Absence of modern and reliable equipment for the treatment of cancer patients remains one of the biggest obstacles in the treatment of cancer in Uganda. Thousands of Ugandans have lost loved ones over the last couple of years because the country’s only Radiotherapy machine constantly broke down sometimes due to over use as well as old age. Before the recent installation of a new Cobalt 60 radiation machine, Uganda survived on just one radiation machine that was procured in 1995.
Besides creating market opportunities for its companies, the United States is Uganda’s biggest supporter to the health sector. In its Report to the Ugandan People, the US Mission in Kampala noted that the US government spent more than a half (US$488m) of its US$844m overall development assistance to Uganda in 2016 on health.
Uganda Cancer Institute at Mulago and Lacor Hospital in Gulu district are the only government hospitals in the country with equipment to handle serious cases of cancer. Nsambya and a few private laboratories have limited cancer diagnosis and treatment services.
Following the grant signing exercise that was witnessed by President Yoweri Museveni, USTDA’s Director, Congressional and Public Affairs, Thomas Hardy said: “USTDA is pleased to support high quality cancer treatment in Uganda. Through Varian’s expertise and cutting-edge equipment, medical professionals in Uganda will have the ability to better treat cancer.”
Dr. Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health expressed gratitude to the Americans for the support. “We are excited about this partnership,” said. “With training and capacity building, the future of oncology treatment in Uganda is very bright.”
“We are honored to support the Government of Uganda in its goal to expand access to advanced radiotherapy for cancer patients across the country,” said Dow Wilson, president and chief executive officer of Varian. “Together with our partners at leading oncology institutes in the U.S. and Africa, we look forward to developing a robust training and education program for Ugandan clinicians that will support the long-term sustainability and human capacity development in the country.”
Varian’s training will last for a five-month period, offering both classroom and lab-based training in radiotherapy best practices developed by South African, U.S. companies and academic institutions.