Chilima dazzled with Cancer Centre progress: Facility will be fully operational by June 2022

“I have been assured that by June next year, this facility will be a fully fledged centre.”

The cancer centre currently under construction in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe will be fully operational as of June 2022, government authorities have disclosed.

Currently, the facility only provides chemotherapy but by June 2022 the hospital will be offering radiotherapy as well marking the full opening of the facility.

Malawi’s vibrant vice president Saulos Klaus Chilima, who is popularly known as SKC in the political arena on Tuesday inspected the project, appeared dazzled with the progress of the facility having been assured that the centre will be fully operational by June, next year.

“This is good news. I have been assured that by June next year this facility will be fully fledged centre. So far they are just offering chemotherapy and are yet to start radiotherapy,” said Chilima.

The vice president was accompanied by Minister of Health Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda as well as several top government officials.

Earlier, the vice president held reforms quarterly progress review meetings with Lilongwe City and District Councils.

Malawi’s government is also building a brand-new cancer centre on the campus of Kamuzu Central Hospital and among other other services, the centre will provide radiation therapy, so patients who need the treatment will no longer have to leave the country – or go without.

Direct Relief has secured cancer medications for Malawi through a partnership with the pharmaceutical company Amgen. The organization has provided chemotherapies along with other supportive medications both to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital and, through UNC Project Malawi, to Kamuzu Central Hospital.

“There are a lot of gaps and stopgaps. The support we get from Direct Relief fills some of those gaps,” said Innocent Mofolo, country director of UNC Project Malawi.

But access to quality care is still a serious issue. In Malawi, 75% of people earn less than $1.25 per day, and 83% live in rural settings, often far from a health centre. Many Malawians only seek treatment when an illness becomes too severe to ignore.

“If it’s not painful, people will often tolerate a symptom in order to get on with everyday life,” explained Jane Bates, a UK-certified doctor who moved to Malawi to practice in 2002.

That means that a trip to a local health centre – which Dr. Bates explained is generally staffed by medical assistants and nurses, not doctors – is often already delayed.

A patient may be referred to a district hospital only to find that the wards are overcrowded and they can’t be admitted. A biopsy has to be conducted at one of the country’s few labs. According to Dr. Bates, it can take weeks for results to come back, and sometimes, they never do.

Malawi does have a College of Medicine, but it’s relatively new, founded in 1991. Before that, people who wanted a medical career had to leave the country. Dr. Bates said class sizes at the College have grown and more doctors are joining the country’s limited workforce.

Cancer care is expensive, and, compared to something like a contagious-disease outbreak, it affects a limited number of people. When a country deals with endemic disease or medical crises, costly treatments like radiation therapy are often low on the list of priorities.

Programs like UNC Project Malawi are beginning to change that. There’s also been an increased focus on screening for cervical cancer – Malawi has the highest incidence in the world – through a test called “visual inspection with acetic acid” (VIA) – a low-tech procedure that nurses can be trained to do.

And the number of cancer doctors is slowly growing. A few oncology specialists will graduate soon from various regional universities.

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