Another step forward treating Cancer for Free
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed on April 1, 2019, between the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine and the Kadijah Foundation’s Fight Cancer Team with plans to purchase Tomotherapy and LINAC ( Linear Particle Accelerator) machines for Apeksha Hospital, Maharagama. Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine Dr. Rajitha Senarathne, State Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous medicine Faizal Cassim, Director General of the Ministry of Health Dr. Anil Jayasinghe, Secretary to the Health Ministry Nimal Balasuriya and Director of the Apeksha Hospital Dr. Wasantha Dissanayake were among the distinguished guests at the event.
The Fight Cancer movement was commenced following a request by Humaid, a cancer victim, on March 4, 2016.
The awe-inspiring story of his father M. S. H Mohamed who through tireless campaigning with the Fight Cancer teams raised over Rs. 250 million to purchase the PET scanner for the Maharagama Hospital, is one known to all. Fuelled by the dreams of his deceased son, the movement spearheaded by Mohamed has taken on an even bigger goal of further developing cancer treatment in Sri Lanka and raising it to meet international standards.
“This project demands One billion Rupees. And we have 20 million people comprising our population, so each person only needs to contribute 50 Rupees. I have absolute faith in our people’s generosity,” Mohamed declared to the gathering.
Impact on health system
Elaborating on the journey of development that had transformed Apeksha Hospital to its present state was Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine Dr. Rajitha Senarathne. He credited the pillars of the project for their roles played in this regard.
“Today Maharagama is a hospital for hope. We have changed both its name board and its treatments. Back then in the Maharagama hospital lives were lost by 50%. Patients would enter through its gates expecting it to be their final journey. Today it is not so. Today Apeksha Hospital is a state of the art facility,” the minister said.
Dr. Senaratne continued on the institute’s achievements and plans for the future. “We have brought most of the latest pharmaceuticals to give chemotherapy. The other part is radiotherapy for which we now have support. We currently have two PET scanners, and now we would have new linear accelerators. We will be bringing another 10 linear accelerators to the country, to distribute to many hospitals.” said Senarathne while adding, “When I took over there was only one hospital to treat cancer and that was at Maharagama, and now there are six; even one in the North. We have also started at Apeksha, the Bone Marrow Transplants for the first time in Sri Lanka. This can treat Leukaemia, Haemophilia, Myeloma, Thalassaemia etc. By now we have done 52 BMTS without one death. That is why we call Apeksha a hospital for hope, not just for cancer”.
On the evolution of the health service of Sri Lanka as a whole, he expressed that, “We have made cancer treatment free of charge for lifetime and provide cardiac stents, hearing aids, cochlear implants and cataract lens free to patients. We have completed all types of transplants successfully, with only the lung transplant left to be achieved”.
Dr. Jeyakumaran Nadarajah of Apeksha Hospital spoke about the impact the project has made on the poor Cancer patients of Sri Lanka. He expressed that in order to materialise the visions expressed by the minister, massive funding is required. Within the private sector, to gain access to such technologies it would cost a patient roughly Rs. 1 million. In light of this, the fight cancer project was revealed to be a saving grace.
"We found out that there are many waiting patients who want to be treated for cancer within Sri Lanka because of the non-availability of machines. The Halcyon in India treats 130-150 per day during fifteen hour shifts. This will do wonders for Sri Lanka"
“After the Tomotherapy we may go for the Cyber Knife and later on for proton treatment,” he added spelling out future plans.
What is Tomotherapy and LINAC?
The event not only launched the project, but also introduced the new technologies it was trying to integrate into the health system.
As presented by Piyush Singh of Accuray India, the TomoTherapy system intends to ‘not only give cancer patients a palliative care, but also provide curative treatments and help patients to live longer with a quality of life’.
According to him, 38, 630 new cancer diagnoses are made every day globally, and by 2030, the cancer incidence will rise by 25 million.
Moreover, the economic cost of cancer as recorded in 2010, was 1.6 Trillion US Dollars.
Addressing these realities, Tomotherapy was put forward as a solution. Tomotherapy is a type of radiation therapy that integrates a CT scanner to perform daily imaging before each treatment session.
“How would it help? It can cater to the entire range and spectrum of disease from paediatric patients, to bone marrow cancers, sarcomas, breast cancers, head and neck cancers, you name it the machine will do it,” Singh explained.
The TomoTherapy System minimises the surrounding healthy tissue from being exposure to radiation through precision, and has reported fewer side effects from patients.
Its helical delivery capabilities allow it to address the full range of diseases as mentioned.
Balaji Jagannathan of Varian Medical Systems, India introduced ‘Halcyon’; as the latest Linear Accelarator equipment, suited for the needs of Sri Lanka.
“We found out that there are many waiting patients who want to be treated for cancer within Sri Lanka because of the non-availability of machines. The Halcyon in India treats 130-150 per day during fifteen hour shifts. This will do wonders for Sri Lanka,” he expressed.
It was evident that the lack of efficiency, accuracy and advancement have been resolved by the project’s targets.
“The PET will recognise the cancer and these new equipment will treat it. We plan to gift the Tomotherapy and LINAC machine within this year and we don’t intend to stop there. Future projects have already begun,” Mohamed concluded on an ambitious note.
Pics by Nimalsiri Edirisinghe