A recent shortage of chemotherapy medication was not unique to KwaZulu-Natal and not the fault of the provincial health department. IoL reports that this is according to KZN Health Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo who said: “We were quite disappointed to read big newspaper headlines yet again about a so-called oncology ‘crisis’ for KZN cancer patients. Now, this is most unfortunate on many levels. Firstly, this shortage of chemotherapy drugs is not our fault as a department; and it is not unique to KZN.”
The report says the claims of shortages were made by the Democratic Alliance’s head of health in KZN, Dr Imraan Keeka, last week. Keeka said the shortages had temporarily affected Addington Hospital and Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital.
But Dhlomo said the drug shortage was countrywide and was “being attended to”. “Chemotherapy has not been stopped at any KZN public hospital. All the hospitals that render chemotherapy are providing the treatment,” he said. “The only challenge that exists concerns the Paclitaxel drug, as the contracted supplier is not able to supply it in keeping with the contract. There is currently no alternative supplier.” Not many suppliers were involved in the manufacture of chemotherapy/cytotoxic agents, he said, but the national health department was working to find alternative suppliers for importing via a Section 21 permit.
“There are many medicines used in chemotherapy and the selection of what combination is used depends on the condition and other dynamics of the patient. Upon checking stock holding, we have discovered that no fewer than 29 different chemotherapy drugs are available,” said Dhlomo.
The report says the potential shortage in chemotherapy medication may have heightened fears amongst cancer patients in the province, who have been dealing with KwaZulu-Natal’s so-called “oncology crisis” for over a year. Dhlomo and his department were singled out in a damning South African Human Rights Commission report released last year as having “violated the rights of oncology patients at the Addington and Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospitals to have access to health care services as a result of their failure to apply with applicable norms and standards set out in legislation and policies”.
The report – the result of a complaint laid by the DA in 2016 – also found that the measures the provincial health department told the SAHRC it would put in place to end the crisis were “inadequate and unacceptable”.
Dhlomo revealed that the department had contracted three oncologists from the Wits Health Consortium, who are based at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, and has two oncologists at Addington Hospital, reports News24. “As a result of these measures, the waiting period to see an oncologist for the first time at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital and Addington Hospital ranges from three to four weeks to eight weeks, depending on the type of required service; while the total number of new patients that are booked is 1 036,” he said.
Before these interventions, the waiting time was between five to six months, according to Dhlomo.
“There are no waiting times for children who need to see an oncologist,” he said.
The report says Dhlomo also announced that new oncologist Dr Thandi Lusu would join Addington Hospital. Lusu recently passed her exams in the Free State, said Dhlomo. “She will be joining Dr Shona Bhadree, who heads up our oncology unit, as well as our team of radiotherapists,” he said. Dhlomo said the department was fortunate as Lusu comes at a time when oncologist Dr Nokwanda Zuma has just announced her decision to take a break to pursue her academic interests. “She has assured us though that she is not entirely lost to the department, and will be back soon,” he said.
The SAHRC said in June this year that progress had been made by Dhlomo’s department in implementing the commission’s recommendations on the state of oncology in the province. The report says acting head of the provincial health department Dr Musa Gumede denied recent media reports that mammograms were not done in provincial hospitals. “All our hospitals that are major centres do mammograms,” he said.
He said there could be backlogs in some hospitals, but it was not true that they did not do mammograms.
“Two institutions that I’m aware of that do not have mammograms that are functioning right now is Port Shepstone and Newcastle,” Gumede said, adding that equipment might be under repairs in those hospitals.