Ugandans in need of bone marrow transplants may soon not need to travel abroad to access the services but will access them in Kampala at the Uganda Cancer Institute.
Bone marrow is a spongy soft tissue located in the bones that helps in the formation of red and white blood cells. It also helps in the formation of blood platelets that help with blood clotting. Bone marrow or stem cell transplants are a medical procedure where healthy blood-forming stem cells are infused into the body to replace damaged or diseased bone marrow.
The transplants are a life-changing treatment for persons suffering from a number of diseases like; sickle cell anaemia, immune deficiency disorders and aplastic anaemias. The transplants are also used to treat some cancers like leukaemia and lymphomas.
According to the Uganda Medical Board, more than 20 Ugandans annually travel abroad to countries such as India to seek bone marrow transplants. Most of the patients who need the treatments have either leukaemia or sickle cell anaemia (disease).
Now, there might not be a need to travel anymore. UCI is currently training staff and is also in the process of constructing a transplant facility so that the country can carry out its first bone marrow transplant in 2024.
Dr Nixon Niyonzima, the head of research and training directorate at the Uganda Cancer Institute says they want to start with carrying out autologous transplants (self donating).
According to Dr Niyonzima, the government has allocated 5 billion shillings this financial year to facilitate training of staff procurement of equipment needed to start the facility. At the moment, Ugandans seeking transplants abroad need between 150 million to 200 million Shillings for the procedure and accommodation for at least one month in India during recovery.
Dr Niyonzima says at UCI, the transplants will be cheaper than what Ugandans currently spend to travel abroad. He however could not disclose the price saying pricing was yet to be done. Dr Niyonzima however emphasized that all people even the poor would be able to access this treatment once the facility is set up.
In addition to carrying out transplants, he says the transplant centre will also provide aftercare services for Ugandans who have travelled abroad for transplants and need to be looked after by the trained staff.
The Executive Director of the Ugandan Cancer Institute, Dr Jackson Orem told URN that the transplant facility is one of the things that will make UCI a centre of excellence in cancer care in the region.
“We are moving towards putting in place facilities that will make us the centre of excellence. We want to be able to offer world-class cancer care to patients within the East African community but also in Africa and the World at a pocket-friendly price. We want people to enter UCI and get all the cancer treatment they need,” Dr Orem said.
While the institute is in preparations to start making history, the lack of an organ transplant law might affect these plans. Currently, the country lacks an organ transplant law under which such transplants can take place. The organ transplant bill is still before the Cabinet and is yet to be passed.
The lack of such a law has hindered the start of kidney or even liver transplants at Mulago National Referral Hospital despite the hospital already having facilities, equipment and even trained staff.
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