Botswana/SA venture may make isotope manufacture a reality

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Botswana could soon be manufacturing isotopes which would pave the way for cancer treatment in hospitals in Botswana and internationally. According to a Weekend Post report, the project is the brain child of the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) in conjunction with MAGO Enterprise of South Africa.

Confirming the development, BIUST vice chancellor, Professor Otlogetswe Totolo said “It will be a good example of university-industry partnership to produce solutions for societies we live in.” The project will be capital intensive because it will need an injection of close to P1bn which shall be a cost shared by BIUST and MAGO Enterprise.

But Totolo cautioned that the project is still at its initial stages. He said before the project takes off, they need to have an agreement with the Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research Science and Technology (MOTE) because the isotopes will be used in hospitals. Totolo also indicated that the Radiation Protection Agency will also have to regulate the isotopes production facility.

The report says Botswana’s public health facilities predominantly refer cancer patients for treatment and in some cases diagnosis to private facilities. South African hospitals receive a lot of cancer patients from Botswana because of lack of appropriate equipment in government hospitals. Totolo is confident that having an isotopes production facility will help reduce the number of patients referred to private hospitals especially South Africa for medical attention.

The main problem at public hospitals is the lack or shortage of equipment used for radiotherapy. The vice chancellor said as an institution that is aggressive in research and innovation, their programmes are accredited by Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) and various other bodies such as the Engineering Council of South Africa, the Engineers Board and automatically BIUST students are recognised by the Washington Accord because of their affiliation to these bodies. He said technologically advanced projects such as the production of isotopes will position BIUST as an academic centre of excellence while also helping the country to diversify its economy.

Totolo encouraged students to take up sciences and mathematics and enroll in similar subjects with BIUST because they will have the opportunity to provide solutions to the country’s economy by partaking in the in these kinds of projects as they continue to take shape. “I would envisage a BIUST that has more products and services responding to the challenges of Batswana. Botswana is experiencing an increase in the number of cancer cases and a project of this nature will be most welcome in the health sector. A BIUST that has a closer cooperation with other parastatals that have a similar mandate such as BITRI and Botswana Innovation Hub.” He said the two parastatals could tap into the resources at BIUST to streamline costs and to share knowledge.

The report says research conducted elsewhere indicates that the rest of the radioisotopes encountered in the world are man-made. When a combination of neutrons and protons, is produced artificially, the atom will usually be unstable and is called a manmade radioactive isotope or radioisotope. Meanwhile studies in developed countries in which surgeons, pathologists, oncologists, radiologists, social workers or psychologists, and nurses are involved in discussing each case suggest that multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) can decrease time to diagnosis, time to treatment, and duplication of investigations, as well as improve accuracy of diagnosis. Thus, the establishment of an MDT is warranted.

A recent study found that more than 75% of patients with cervical cancer in Botswana have locally advanced disease. In Botswana, current treatment includes radiotherapy and cisplatin-based chemotherapy. Radiotherapy, however, is not available in the public sector; hence, patients are referred to the private sector for radiation.

Weekend Post report

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