‘Machine broken’: cancer patients left untreated for months

By Confidente Reporter

FRUSTRATION and fear filled the Oncology department at Windhoek Central Hospital on Monday when cancer patients from across the country who have to undergo radiotherapy treatment were told their treatment will be disrupted for at least two months because the radiotherapy machine is still broken.

Confidente understands that the Cobalt 60 machine, which reportedly destroys cancer cells, has not been functional for the past two months, as hospital officials are waiting for a technician from South Africa to fix it. Until then, patients with various types of cancer are expected to wait, surviving mostly on painkillers to cope with the life-threatening disease.

Patients from outside Windhoek have been crammed in at the hospital, while others are continuously sent home to wait for the only radiotherapy machine owned by government to be fixed.

On Monday, patients were told to either return to their respective towns or wait in their respective wards until January when the machine will hopefully be fixed. Those from outside Windhoek were told they would be notified by phone. The matter is so sensitive that experts in the department want to quit, citing the slow progress and deliberate politicking at the expense of patients who urgently need help.

“The machine is outdated. We are not treating but killing people because of side-effects from that old machine. Thousands of patients from across the country all come here for this service but the machine is forever broken.

“At times, we open our doors only to tell patients that there is nothing we can do for them, send them back home and then we close for the day. It is frustrating because it appears our leaders do not care,” said one medical expert on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

A patient, who also preferred not to be identified, said: “I am from Oshakati and have been in hospital for two months without being treated through that machine. I have been off work for two months and as such I have no income. After two months, here am I again being told that the machine is still not fixed. The festive season is fast approaching and I have no money. I don’t know what to do.”

Confidente is informed that despite requests for government through the Ministry of Health and Social Services to purchase a new machine, estimated at N$30 million, emergency state patients have instead been sent to private hospitals at an average cost to government of N$200 000 per session per patient.

It is understood that government spends at least N$3 million a week on state patients referred to private hospitals. “We don’t understand the logic of spending N$3 million a week paying private hospitals when they can purchase a machine said to cost around N$30 million.”

Treatment on the machine is said to last at least six weeks per patient. “With the machine broken, it means treatment is disrupted and this is dangerous as cancer cells tend to spread. It will be pointless for patients because then cancer would’ve spread to other parts of the body.”

Health executive director Ben Nangombe said the matter is being addressed.  “We are working on a plan to get the machine replaced.  I cannot give a time frame but we are at the initial stage.”