Early this month, Alphonse Ongaba joined the agony queue at the Mulago Cancer Institute, the only cancer facility in a country of 30 million. Once a rare disease, cancers of various kinds are emerging to be a big killer in Uganda. Despite this threat, many of these cancers are either not getting treated or costing huge sums of money. Funding to the health sector – most of it from foreign donors – largely goes to three diseases: HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. So cancer patients like Ongaba are paying a heavy price. He had arrived here a few days earlier than September 17 when I met him.
The 13-year-old was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer common in children. He has a swollen jawbone, his breath emits a foul odour, blood oozes from his mouth, most of his teeth have fallen out, and he cannot eat food and has to depend on fluids. He is in severe pain.