Monday, April 18, 2016


The debacle of Mulago hospital’s radiotherapy machine, used in cancer treatment, has had Ugandans frothing at the mouth for a week now, and who can blame them.

To be worried about this country given these details would count as the biggest understatement of all time.

This story is wrong on so many levels all of which cannot be examined here.

Over the week it has emerged that the machine was in service long after it was supposed to be in operation. It had been chugging away for 21 years yet it should have been decommissioned a decade ago. That the hospital is trying to coax a few more months, years or even decades from the aging machine as they wait for the replacement, which according to health officials has already been paid for. That officials are lobbying government to release the sh30b needed to build a bunker to house the machine because questions have been raised about the current banker’s fitness to do the job. And finally that the earliest the new machine can go into service is in two years!

Meanwhile that there are more than 40,000 new referrals for cancer treatment annually, three in four of whom would need radio therapy.

I remember a book on my dad’s shelf many year’s ago whose title was “You have got to cry to laugh”.

The instances of irresponsibility, negligence and planlessness are hard to miss in that quick summary of the facts.

"How is it that when the machine was donated and we were aware that  it can only serve for 10 years that we are only just now – 10 years after it was supposed to be decommissioned, getting around to replacing it? How is it that with such a work load we still have one machine at Mulago and not at least 10 by now? How is it that we continued to operate a machine which most probably has been irradiating everybody within a 100 meters of itself and the people who were supposed to raise an alarm are only just doing so, almost five years after they new it?...

This story is infuriating and mind boggling in equal measure. As Ugandans we shouldn’t be surprised by this “circus” we have seen so many more cases of poor service delivery.

One of the sad things about these incidents is that no one, for a minute, thinks our public servants are incompetent or even out of their depth, the default position is that someone by letting things get out of hand is trying to make quick buck.

"As you can imagine with the public uproar over this machine the procurement manual will be thrown out of the window and no expense will be spared to alleviate the situation, always a recipe for overcosting and contracting dodgy suppliers...

How did we get to this point?

Where public officials run down public services safe in the knowledge that when they have a medical emergency they will be whisked off to Nairobi or Johannesburg or Chennai.

Cynical? Maybe but that is what we have come to expect and with a shrug of our shoulders we let it go on.

Public officials throw their hands up in the air and complain of poor funding “How can we serve meat when you gave us beans”, which is fair but which flies in the face of the money stolen annually – at last count at least sh500b annually, which would have gone quite a way had it been put to its intended use.

"Even sadder is that the beneficiaries of these inadequacies are not seating on their hands waiting to be picked off but are actively working to perpetuate the mess so they can continue stealing. In addition in entrenching themselves in position they are not only holding the government hostage but the very citizens of Uganda...

For now we shake our head and pray we do not contract any cancer. A sorry way to exist.

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