At St Mary’s Hospital Lacor in Northern Uganda, which is part of INCTR’s Burkitt lymphoma project, drugs needed for the treatment of this cancer have been unavailable for some weeks, and key drugs have only recently become available again. The situation was so dire that children and their families who came to the hospital during the early autumn months were asked to travel to Kampala, Uganda to get much needed treatment there. Sadly, the families, many of whom live on less than two (sometimes less than one) dollars a day, could not afford the transportation costs, let alone the costs associated with staying in Kampala. Burkitt lymphoma grows very rapidly such that even if families could have embarked on the long journey from Gulu to Kampala, it was likely that some children would have died en route. Therefore, they chose to wait at St Mary’s Hospital in the hope that the drugs, ordered three months ago, would arrive. Consequently, new patients received only palliative care when they could have started specific therapy for their disease and, patients who already started treatment were unable to complete therapy. Some children died while waiting for the drugs and other families simply left the hospital after giving up all hope that the drugs would ever come.
This problem has arisen because of recent changes in the drug distribution system in Uganda, which has led to chemotherapy drugs not being stocked by many local suppliers of medicines, and markedly increased the time from ordering to receipt of drugs (all of which have to be imported), with no guarantee that the drugs will arrive when expected. Guaranteed purchasing of specific quantities of drugs from a single company and payments made in advance at regular intervals could alleviate this situation, although more funds will be needed to initiate a system of this kind. The team at St Mary’s Hospital is dedicated to finding a solution and is in daily contact with the drug suppliers. They are also working with the government to ensure that non-governmental hospitals such as St Mary’s can have better access to drugs. But, this will take time to work out. Having sufficient funds on hand to make the advance purchase of drugs for Burkitt lymphoma is essential if patients are not to arrive at the treatment center after an arduous journey only to find that they cannot be treated anyway. Your donations will be of enormous help to St Mary’s since they will enable the hospital to make the necessary advanced purchases to ensure that children with this highly curable cancer are given a chance to live.
It is encouraging to be able to report that some drugs have recently arrived at St Mary’s, and that progress has been made in developing an improved system of drug purchasing and delivery that should avoid a similar occurrence in the future. Children in other countries have continued to receive their treatment as planned, but it will be important to examine their purchasing strategies to avoid a similar occurrence.
In this holiday season, when the thoughts of many turn to those less fortunate than themselves, please consider making a donation to help and to give hope not only to the children at St Mary’s, but to those at the several other hospitals involved in INCTR’s project. And rest assured that we will explore what measures we can take to support our African colleagues who are doing all they can to permanently solve this problem. We sincerely thank all of you who have donated to the project this year – without your help, many more children with a potentially curable disease would have died.
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