How Sh15bn project at Ocean Road Cancer Institute will transform treatment


  • The only practicing nuclear medicine expert outlined the project significance during an exclusive interview with The Citizen held at the facility last week.

Dar es Salaam. The Sh15 billion project implemented at the Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI) will significantly transform the country’s disease diagnosis and treatment, according to the nuclear medicine expert, Dr Tausi Maftah.

The only practicing nuclear medicine expert outlined the project significance during an exclusive interview with The Citizen held at the facility last week.

She said the Sh15 billion Pistron Emission Tomography (PET)/Computerised Tomography (CT) project implemented at the facility was good news to Tanzanians.

She said the project will involve installation of the Cyclotron Special Machine that will manufacture radioactive materials necessary for the use in the PET/CT.

“Manufacture radioactive materials from the Cyclotron Special Machine will be prescribed to patients before they are taken to the PET/CT scanner whose function is to detect what happens in a person’s internal organs,” she said.

She said unlike the current situation where radioactive materials are imported from South Africa and Europe, domestic manufacturing will facilitate early diagnosis of diseases through identification of changes in the patient’s cells.

“Early diagnosis provides assurance for the patient to recover as compared to when the disease is discovered in late stages through Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computerised Tomography (CT) scans,” said Dr Maftah.

She said once the project is completed, Tanzania will start manufacturing radioactive materials and treatment monitoring equipment will be commissioned, things that have not happened domestically in the past.

According to her, some radioactive materials are not imported for domestic use because of their short lifespan, noting that they could expire at the airport in the process of clearance.

She said there were radioactive materials that could expire within two, six, eight, ten hours after the manufacture, making it difficult for the doses to be imported and maintain treatment powers.

“Once we start delivering services from the project, Tanzania will be ranked among the countries with advanced technology in provision of specialized treatment,” says Dr Maftah.

Dr Maftah said the ORCI will be enabled to make early diagnosis of other diseases such as heart complications, different types of cancer such as thyroid, bone, throat, lungs, breast, prostate, intestine cancers and make appropriate treatment plans.

She said medical doctors will also be provided with the ability to monitor the progress of treatment and could respectively make changes in the plan of treating a patient in case of unsatisfactory development.

According to her, the project will facilitate successful introduction of cancer treatment services in zonal hospitals such as the Benjamin Mkapa Hospital in Dodoma, the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) in Kilimanjaro and Bugando Medical Centre in Mwanza.

“Currently, cancer patients are supposed to travel to the ORCI. However, the project will enable zonal referral hospitals to start treating the patients,” she said.

“They will only be forced to come to the ORCI for staging processes. They will then continue with the rest procedures in respective zones, something that will reduce inconveniences and financial burdens,” she added.

The 46-year expert said there were plans to replicate the advancements in the zonal hospitals, suggesting that increasing investment in human resources was inevitable.

According to her, once the project commences operations in June, this year, four specialist doctors; six equipment operators; two radio-pharmacists; two nuclear medicine physicists and two biological engineers would be required.

“Currently, we have two radio pharmacists and another one in school; two physicists; four specialist doctors and four technologists. These are enough even at the beginning as we will be waiting for colleagues who are receiving training,” she said.

“However, we will have to over-work ourselves. However, we are thankful to the government for enabling us to use our expertise to serve our fellow Tanzanians,” she added.

How nuclear is used for treatment

Dr Maftah says nuclear power is used in different ways including making weapons, generating of power, sterilisation as well as disease diagnosis and treatment.

According to her, radioactive materials used for treatment are manufactured in special nuclear equipment/plants, packaged in special units for treating different types of cancer.

“In order for a radioactive material to work in a human body, it is mixed with specific chemicals that transfer the radioactive material (dose) to an infected part of the body,” she said.

Dr Maftah said chemicals mixed with radioactive materials are specifically made to identify physiology of the human body’s organs like the heart, liver and kidney.

“For instance, prostate or breast cancer usually spreads to other glands and bone marrows. Therefore, for such a patient, radioactive materials would require chemicals comprising calcium or phosphate that are the main component of the bones,” she said.

“When the mixture is given to a patient, it will be taken to the exact patient’s affected area. Through monitoring, we can see what is happening,” she added.

Furthermore, she said the expertise relies on understanding the human organs, formations, functioning and chemicals they produce, hence enabling experts to properly choose appropriate radioactive material and chemicals for the targeted area.

“For example, prostate cancer produces chemicals known as Prostate Specific Membrane Antigen (PSMA). Therefore, experts will mix it with Luticium-177 PSMA before providing it to a patient for treatment,” she said.

What should be expected?

Dr Maftah said citizens should expect early diagnosis of diseases especially cancer, identification of infected areas, monitoring of treatment progress and changing treatment recommendations whenever there is a need.

“Tanzania is going to make a huge transformation especially in the treatment of cancer. Citizens should expect modernized cancer treatment services,” she said.

She emphasized that there was no need for patients to wait for diseases to reach higher stages, noting that early screening and treatment should be adopted by citizens.

Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs)

Dr Maftah expressed her concern on the increasing trend of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as heart, kidney, pressure, diabetes, cancer etc.

“Apart from affecting the country’s workforce, NCDs are a huge burden to families and the government, requiring expensive resources during treatment. Worse enough, they are lifetime diseases, therefore adversely affecting the country’s economy,” she said.

According to her, NCDs have prompted changes to the use of insurance covers, that instead of using for disease diagnosis, insurances are used for treatment.

Changes of lifestyle

She said the increase of NCD diseases is highly caused by changes of the people’s lifestyle and consumption preferences as industrial food with different levels of preservatives has substituted organic food.

However, she said the majority of Tanzanians are not engaged in body exercises due to recorded development that provide citizens with different transport options.

“Citizens are now excessively using motorbikes and bajaj even in a distance they could walk. This denies them the opportunity of doing body exercises,” she said.

Dr Maftah said body metabolism that would increase water intake therefore eliminate the waste and improve the health of kidneys are adversely affected.

She said the challenge is now extended to children raising, blaming the move to the raising of soft children.

According to her, while Tanzanians are shifting to industrial/processed food, organic food has turned to be very expensive in foreign countries where its citizens better know of their benefits.

“People should think about their health and avoid practices that will damage their health. They include cigarette smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol,” she observed.