Ugandan doctors to conduct first bone marrow transplant

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Doctors from Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) and scientists from India this week concluded the first bone-marrow transplant conference in Kampala, as the institute prepares to conduct its first bone-marrow transplant within three years.

Dr Nixon Niyonzima, the head of research and training at UCI, said during the conference that transplantation in Uganda would save more lives by increasing access to care.

“Remember bone-marrow transplantation is not just for just cancer patients. It’s also applicable to many other benign haematology conditions such as sickle cell disease, aplastic anaemia, and a number of other diseases that currently have no cure,” Dr Niyonzima said in a joint press statement with India’s Aster Medcity Hospital and Magnus Medi.
People who can afford the costs of bone marrow transplant – upwards of $20,000 (Shs74 million) – go to foreign countries for expensive medical procedures.

Dr Niyonzima, without divulging the exact amount people may have to pay for the transplant, said the cost in Uganda would be lower.
Dr Francis Ssali, the Deputy Executive Director of the Joint Clinical Research Centre, said in a separate interview that people pay a lot more in foreign countries because the latter’s human resources require higher payment and also that maintaining a patient is expensive because of the generally high cost of living.

Dr Niyonzima revealed that they have started construction of a transplant facility funded by the African Development Bank.
“We hope that within three years, we will be able to make the first patient begin on the first steps towards the first transplant in Uganda,” he said.

The conference, held at the UCI-Fred Hutch Cancer Centre in Kampala, is one of the very many initiatives envisaged under an academic exchange and collaboration programme between UCI, Aster Medcity and Magnus Medi.
During the conference, Dr Ramaswamy Narayanasamy, a senior consultant on blood cancers and head haematology at Aster Medcity, presented to stakeholders the latest trends and technologies in bone marrow transplant.

He emphasised the need for closer collaboration between African and Asian countries on key elements such as research, knowledge exchange and increasing the pool of stem cell donors, saying the two continents were lagging behind other continents such as North America and Europe.

The tripartite bone-marrow conference follows a knowledge exchange visit by UCI staff to Aster Medcity in February 2022. The UCI delegation was led by Dr Henry Ddungu, the Head of the Division of Medical Oncology and Haematology, and facilitated by Mr Mihir Vora Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Magnus Medi.
Dr Niyonzima said beyond cancer, UCI was looking to expand bone-marrow transplants to treat other illnesses.

“In Africa, one in every 12 patients is a carrier of the sickle cell trait, meaning that we have very many patients with sickle cell disease. And for many of these, they die before their 20th birthday. We want to create treatment options for patients with aplastic anaemia, multiple myeloma and leukaemia, among others, here at Uganda Cancer Institute,” he said.

“In addition, since we are creating UCI into an international centre of excellence, we also want to offer options to other residents of the East African region and sub-Saharan Africa. So partnerships such as this are what will enable us to build that capacity here in Uganda,” Dr Niyonzima reiterated.

Dr Ddungu of UCI said he already identified a team of expert doctors, nurses, and laboratory scientists who are undergoing a series of training and a comprehensive plan for establishing an international standard bone marrow transplant centre had already been formatted.

“Even as we start, we may not be able to achieve everything. For example, we won’t be able to run haploidentical and islet transplants. This is where such collaborations with Aster Medcity will come in handy, to handle complex cases,” Dr Ddungu said.

He added: “But all in all, we are committed to reducing the number of people that go out for treatment. We don’t want to be an institution that exports patients. We need collaborators that can help us grow capacity and make sure that we set up our own programmes.”

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