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Cancer Centre delays irk Health Committee

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The Health Committee of Parliament has expressed sadness over the lack of progress in the construction of a radiotherapy bunker at the Cancer Centre at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) in Lilongwe.

The development has meant that the facility only offers chemotherapy and continues to refer patients in need of radiotherapy outside the country.

The main objective of a bunker used for external radiotherapy is to limit the radiation exposure of workers and the public.

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A radiotherapy bunker room contains a medical linear accelerator used primarily to treat cancer. The linear accelerator uses a high energy radiation beam to localise treatment on a tumour.

Speaking when the committee toured the centre, Health Committee of Parliament Chairperson, Matthews Ngwale, said it was disappointing to see no progress on the bunkers despite assurances that authorities were making progress on the same.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing, has happened. We were told that even the designs which were used to dig this were condemned and the International Atomic Energy Agency came to Malawi and said this is very dangerous and we had to abandon this project,” Ngwale said.

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He added that his committee is not only interested in the delays of the project but also who is blocking the radiotherapy section.

“There must be somebody who is not doing what they are supposed to do. Right now because of respect, we will just follow the project, but as we go, we will be talking of who is blocking this project,” Ngwale said.

KCH Director, Jonathan Ngoma, said he does not know what is delaying the project, saying his office does not have control over the processes of constructing the bunkers but the Ministry of Health, the Director of Buildings and other regulatory agencies.

Ngoma admitted that the hospital has many patients who need radiotherapy and that only very few are sent abroad due to the limited budget for external referrals.

“A lot of them are dying while on the waiting list,” Ngoma said.

Head of Infrastructure in the Ministry of Health Sanderson Kuyeli said they expect to start constructing the bunkers before the rainy season so that they are through with the works by December this year.

According to Kuyeli, the construction of the bunkers started in 2017 and was expected to be finished in 2019.

He said around 2018, officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency visited the site and saw that what was being done was not ideal as far as radiation is concerned.

“Because the component of bunkers was halted, it meant we had to recruit a new consultant to redesign the bunkers. So that process took some time for the recruitment. It took us almost a year and a half and then to start the process of the design it also took some time,” Kuyeli said.

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