Waiting to die: Uganda's untreated cancer patients

Since its only external beam radiotherapy machine broke in April, Ugandans having been dying of treatable cancers.

| | Human Rights, Poverty & Development, Health, Uganda, Africa

Uganda - With his shoulders hunched forward and his hands curled over the curve of the steering wheel, James Isabirye scans a dusty road in southern Uganda for signs of life. The driver at Hospice Jinja is looking for a narrow inlet, somewhere between a neighbourhood shop and a primary school, that his colleague and passenger Esther Apolot is directing him to.

"And you remembered to pack the morphine?" Esther asks. "This patient is very sick."

James takes a hard left turn down a winding footpath carved in the dirt, which grows increasingly narrow until it dead-ends at two crumbling redbrick houses.

"This is it," says Esther. "She's inside."

Covered by a single sheet atop a foam mattress on the concrete floor is 32-year-old Harriet Namuwoya. The mother of seven has abdominal cancer. A watermelon-sized tumour protrudes from her stomach.

"She's in a lot of pain," says Esther. "If it was caught earlier, she would've benefited from radiation."

Harriet is not alone. She is one of hundreds of patients dying from treatable cancer in Uganda after the country's only external-beam radiotherapy machine broke last April. It has not been replaced.

Too poor to travel to the nearest machine in Nairobi, Kenya, where treatment and living expenses for the duration of treatment often run upwards of $5,000, Harriet and those like her are simply waiting to die in homes across Uganda.

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