Cancer Patients In Quandary As Radiation Therapy Machines Break Down
26 May 2021

By A Correspondent- Radiation therapy machines have broken down at Bulawayo’s Mpilo Central Hospital, imperilling the lives of over 100 cancer patients on a waiting list for treatment.

Mpilo is one of only two medical facilities in the country that treat cancer patients – the other is Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals in Harare, 450km away.

The hospital has two linear accelerators and a third machine for cervical cancer. One of the two linear accelerators which direct high-energy beams of radiation into a patient’s body to kill cancer cells has been out of service for months, and the other packed up on May 6, just over a month after it was repaired, patients told ZimLive.

One patient said: “Life in Zimbabwe is tough. It’s been two weeks and we’re being turned away because the machine is not working properly. My radiation sessions have been disrupted by exactly seven days.”

The patient said after enquiring if he could be transferred to Parirenyatwa, he was told he would need to start his 25-day treatment all over again “as radiation is supposed to be a continuous process.”

He added: “I fear for my life and that of a friend I met at Mpilo who is in a critical situation. The ministry of health should help us.”

Acting Mpilo Hospital CEO Professor Solwayo Ngwenya confirmed their machines had broken down.

In an emailed response to ZimLive, Prof Ngwenya said: “Please note that the machines are very sensitive and they break down constantly. This also happens to machines in Harare and we have treated patients from there when their machines break down.

“The government is working very hard to fix the latest problems. This time it is not the issue of the physicist.”

Previously when Mpilo’s cancer machines were working, the hospital had no physicist to carry out the treatment until one was seconded from Harare. Mpilo’s last two physicists had left for the United Kingdom.

Ngwenya said Zimbabwe currently had no engineers who can fix the machines.

“When they break down, we have to fly in engineers from South Africa, and that requires foreign currency which we don’t have. Whenever there are power outages and such other disturbances, the risk of breakdown increases exponentially,” Ngwenya explained.

He said they relied on the health ministry to secure foreign currency from treasury, adding that the issue had already been escalated with the ministry.

On Tuesday, shocking pictures taken by doctors emerged showing nurses carrying patients up a staircase because lifts were not working. The hospital is blaming power outages.

“The pictures you refer to were taken on Monday. ZESA was said to be doing a fault repair in the neighbouring suburbs so they cut power off most of the day. We used diesel generators to power lifesaving equipment, but unfortunately the lift is not powered by the generators,” Ngwenya said.

“We have been having these power cuts for sometime now. We used to have dedicated power supply from ZESA as a major strategic hospital. Unfortunately, we don’t have any dedicated line anymore and we continue to be at the mercy of power faults and cuts.

“We feel the pain and inconvenience that the staff and patients and their relatives have to go through. We hope that these issues will be attended soon by the relevant authorities.”