By Mulengera Reporters
68-year-old Thomas Opoo from Pallisa district has lived with a brain tumor under the skull base for more than 5 years. Oppo’s family first noticed that something was not right with the senior citizen when he began convulsing and being forgetful. The family thought these were symptoms of old age. The family sought treatment and Opoo finally ended up at Butabika National Referral hospital. The family thought that he had suffered from a mental illness due to the convulsing.
At Butabika he was given anti-convulsing medication and a referral to Mulago National Referral Hospital. Upon reaching Mulago, scans carried out in 2019 revealed that he had a brain tumor. A brain tumor refers to the growth of abnormal cells in the brain. The cells may or may not cause cancer. Brain tumors vary in size with some being as small as one centimeter while others are as big as 10 centimeters or more.
They can be removed by surgery. However, Opoo could not get the surgery that he needed because of the long waiting list. “We went to the hospital when the situation with pap was worsening. He had become very forgetful. He would start a journey and forget where he was going. This lasted for like three years but even after being diagnosed with a tumor, we have to wait for a long time before he gets an operation,” Omuntu, one of Opoo’s children narrates.
Opoo is not alone. Around 150 Ugandans with brain tumors will have to wait for at least one year before accessing the life-saving surgery. On average, 104 Ugandans are diagnosed with brain tumors annually. However, many such cases are forced to wait at least a year before they can get the life-saving operation. Officials at Mulago National Referral Hospital say that while the hospital ideally is supposed to work on tumors as they come in that is not possible due to the high number of Boda boda accident victims that demand more urgent care.
Dr Micheal Edgar Muhumuza, a neurosurgeon and the deputy head of neurosurgery at Mulago National Referral Hospital, says that they are often forced to prioritize accident victims because they are often in very bad shape. According to Dr Muhumuza, as medical personnel they cannot operate on people with tumors who can still walk and leave accident victims on the verge of death.
According to the 2021 Police Report, 17,443 road accidents were reported. More than 10,000 of these involved Boda bodas. At least 20 Boda boda accident victims ended up in hospitals on a daily basis needing the services of a trained neurosurgeon, according to Mulago Hospital officials. As a result, patients with tumors or those with cases that are not urgent have limited choices. They either wait for a year or seek care in private facilities, which at times charge 20 times more than it would at a government hospital.
In addition to the accident victims, Dr Muhumuza also highlights the low man power at the hospital. “We are only six neurosurgeons at Mulago Hospital. But we hope this number will increase soon because there are around 12 doctors under training,” he added. He revealed during a tour of the neurosurgeon ward at Mulago. The tour is part of a two weeks medical camp that the hospital organized to address different brain tumors. Dr Muhumuza says the hospital is forced to make special arrangements like the camp to handle the cases.
For the last two weeks, the hospital has been carrying out a medical camp to address brain tumors. So far, 21 patients have been operated on with another 20 or more cases expected to be addressed this week. However another 150 patients remain on the waiting list. Patients who cannot afford to wait, can seek treatment abroad. If the surgery is carried out at Mulago, it costs on average Shillings 3 million. On the open market, the surgery costs on average Shillings 30 million or more for Ugandans who seek care abroad.
Persons with brain tumors normally present with severe prolonged headaches that don’t respond to pain killers, vomiting, visual disturbances, confusion, forgetfulness and difficulty in talking. According to doctors, when brain tumors are not removed early, they can grow, which in turn can reduce the success of surgeries. Left untreated, they can lead to death-URN (For comments on this story, get back to us on 0705579994 [whatsapp line], 0779411734 & 0200900416 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).