Oncology Outreach Program
Our mission is to enable patients in southwestern Uganda to access high-quality cancer care. Led by MUST and MRRH, international partners like the Massachusetts General Hospital are collaborating to train the physicians, nurses and pharmacists required for comprehensive cancer care. Through this bi-lateral partnership, MUST, Mass General and our partners will validate replicable models for the expansion of medical and surgical oncology training and cancer treatment access across East Africa.
Of the estimated 27,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed each year in Uganda, more than 80% of patients will die from their disease – a tragic inversion of survival rates from similar diseases in the developed world. Among children diagnosed with cancer in Uganda, survival rates remain as low as 20-30%, compared to 90% in the U.S. For cancer patients in Uganda, innumerable obstacles can delay access to treatment including public stigma and fear of being ostracized for a misunderstood disease, misguided treatments from traditional healers, recurring costs of transportation to hospitals, hospital fees for diagnostic tests and expensive treatment, and the delays of days or weeks for a chance to be treated by an overwhelmed staff with limited resources.
Established in 2011, the MUST Cancer Unit at MRRH is staffed twice weekly by a single internist, 1 resident and 6 nurses. The unit sees 15-20 outpatients per day, and cares of up to 12 adult inpatients in a dedicated inpatient ward. Supportive clinical services – e.g. pathology and radiology for diagnosis, or surgery and anesthesiology for treatment of solid tumors – are equally constrained by the availability of trained staff and required infrastructure.
The MGH is committed to providing the necessary faculty, curricula, and supervised instruction to support Uganda in its expansion of cancer-related training programs. Many of the existing training programs in medicine, surgery, pediatrics, nursing, pharmacy and laboratory science at MUST provide a valuable foundation in knowledge and clinical experience requisite for managing the cancer patient. However, the additional training required to safely administer chemotherapy, perform advanced oncologic surgery, and optimize outcomes from treatment is currently not available in Uganda, and is of limited availability in East Africa. Mass General Global Health will support our partners in Uganda to increase the absolute number and broaden the clinical expertise of the MUST Cancer Unit to manage specific high-burden diseases that respond well to chemotherapy and surgery.
In 2011, the cancer clinic started as a single room unit housed within the Internal Medicine ward and staffed by one physician and one nurse. In 2014, the Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital created a four-room facility for outpatient treatment consisting of a consultation room, two chemotherapy infusion rooms and a small room for chemotherapy preparation. Last year MRRH and MUST renovated an existing building to house a 12-bed inpatient adult ward to meet the increasing patient load. In addition to that, MGH fundraising efforts allowed the Cancer Unit to grow their Human Resource Capacity from 1 internist and 1 nurse to a comprehensive team of 1 oncologist, 2 residents, a medical officer and 6 nurses. Four of these contracts will be taken over by the Ugandan Ministry of Health.