The Eastern Cape health department has set aside R100-million to build the much-needed oncology unit at the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital.
The construction project is expected to take three years, starting this financial year, with R31-million to be spend during phase one of the project.
Phases two and three are expected to be undertaken in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 financial years.
When completed, cancer patients from as far as Mbizana, Lusikisiki and Mthatha, who previously had to travel to East London and Port Elizabeth for treatment, will no longer have to travel long distances.
Provincial health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said building a R100-million oncology unit was not a solution because the department wanted to develop and improve primary healthcare.
The department will build the oncology unit to be filled with state-of-the-art equipment and wards.
According to Kupelo, phase one has already begun and the funds allocated will be used for building works, which will be followed by the procurement of a linear accelerator.
A linear accelerator (Linac) is the device most commonly used for external beam radiation treatments for patients with cancer.
The linear accelerator is used to treat all parts/organs of the body.
It delivers high-energy X-rays or electrons to the region of the patient’s tumour.
Kupelo said the human resources part of the project would be done in 2018-19.
“This will come as a relief for a number of people. There is an issue with cancer statistics in the province and this unit will alleviate the pressure on our people in that part of the country,” he said.
Kupelo said one of the problems faced by the department was people taking too long to seek medical help.
He said the challenge was often seen in men with prostate cancer, where it is only discovered at stage three or four.
“Men in that part of the province come to our facilities very late because they start by consulting traditional healers and they think they have been bewitched by jealous lovers in what is commonly known as ibekelo,” he said.
“Our people come very late because anything that is around the genitals is considered to be taboo.
“Men who are 40 years old and older must frequently go for prostate cancer checks every year.”
Kupelo said getting tested early meant patients could be treated early but not being diagnosed early enough was also hard on doctors, who had to send people home because they could not be treated.
When cancer is too advanced, doctors cannot provide treatment and tell patients to go home, he said.
“Former president Nelson Mandela and [retired] archbishop Desmond Tutu were diagnosed and treated early and they are the prime example of what we want to teach our people because both these icons lived long lives after being treated,” he said.
Currently, oncology services in the Eastern Cape are only available at East London’s Frere Hospital and Port Elizabeth’s Livingstone Hospital. Cancer patients coming from rural areas in the OR Tambo district still have to travel far to get the treatment they need.
“We are going to hire specialists to run that unit,” Kupelo said.
He also urged women to go for pap smears and breast tests, known as mammograms.
“We have these facilities and our people must use them,” he said. — firstname.lastname@example.org