THE health status of the Zambian people has been improving over the past 18 years. Since the commencement of major health sector reforms in 1991, Zambia’s efforts have been directed towards improving the standards of living, particularly concerning health of the population throughout the country. This is being done through a combination of strategies and approaches, which include health specific strategies and those intended to influence the performance of other determinants of health, including education, poverty reduction, and access to good sanitation and safe water.
Support services are probably remaining one of the weak chain of the Zambian health sector. Efforts have been consented these last years on restructuring and streamlining the organisation of pharmaceuticals, but the problems remain. Some areas, particularly rural and peri-urban areas in poor provinces, suffer from insufficient equipment and infrastructure, and poor maintenance.
However, Zambia is willing to solve the problems by applying nuclear technologies. In May last year, Russian state owned nuclear corporation (ROSATOM) and the Zambian government signed an engineering, procurement and construction contract for the Centre of Nuclear Science and Technology. The CNST, to be based in Chongwe, will include a state-of-the-art laboratory complex, multipurpose irradiation centre as well as a cyclotron-based nuclear medicine centre.
The nuclear medicine center uses advanced technologies for diagnosis and treatment of cancer, heart diseases and other illnesses. The CNST produces isotopes and radio pharmaceuticals which are used in almost every field of medicine. The center offers radio nuclide and proton therapy, radio therapy and PHC city diagnostics.
“The medical imaging with use of nuclear technologies includes Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT), which makes it possible to scan human bodies in a much more accurate way to detect any abnormalities and tumors at the very early stage,” said Dmitri Vysotski, director of Nuclear Research Reactors, Rusatom Overseas. He pointed out that these technologies can be used to examine diverse conditions like blood flow to brain, functioning of liver, lungs, heart or kidneys, and to determine primary oncological disease as well as assess the presence of metastases, etc. “Diagnostic procedures using radiopharmaceuticals have become common practice around the world,” Vysotski added.
Zambia is currently experiencing a major increase in the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cancer. Nevertheless, thanks to nuclear medicine more than 17,000 cancer cases have been diagnosed and treated at the Cancer Diseases Hospital in Lusaka since it was established 10 years ago, raising hope for Zambia’s fight against the disease.
“Nuclear medicine is the most effective method in the early detection of cancer. The earlier cancer is detected, the more likely it is to respond positively to treatment and this generally results in a greater probability of recovery”, says Phumzile Tshelane, CEO of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (NECSA).
Radiation medicine is a vital component of cancer control. Procedures such as X-rays, CT scans and mammograms are used for the early detection and diagnosis of cancer. Radiotherapy can treat and manage the disease and provide substantial pain relief for patients when cure is not possible.
“Radiation therapy, which is a nuclear technology, has been proven over the last 100 years to provide effective diagnosis and cure for cancer. There’s a lot of fear regarding the use of radioactive substances as people believe that it is dangerous. But I’d like to rest people’s anxieties by saying that if somebody has been trained on how to use radioactive substances on a patient or in industry, it is done safely,” said Ms Kanduza, chief medical physicist of the Cancer Diseases Hospital.
“Nuclear technology in medicine is very beneficial. It is the only way you can see the inside of the body without opening up the patient. It’s the eyes the doctor uses to see inside the body of a patient.” ROSATOM