The centre was refurbished in response to government’s plans to decentralize cancer screening and treatment. However, the centre has remained under lock and key leaving cancer patients with nowhere to turn for help.
He says currently all suspected cancer patients are referred to Uganda Cancer Institute-UCI for treatment.
James Wako, a prostate cancer patient from Namulesa village, says he spends at least 50,000 Shillings to travel to UCI for treatment, adding that at times he has to wait for days when the institute lacks some drugs.
“It is very expensive for me to travel every month to get drugs as simple as Morphine. If Jinja ward was operational, I would be happy,” he said.
Alitwala also notes that the unit is faced with a challenge of essential drug stockouts, adding that they have spent over two years without receiving Phenytoin and Injectable Fluphenzine, the two most essential drugs for mental illness.
Sarah Mudondo, a care take to one of the patients who has spent four weeks in the facility. She says that she spends more than Shillings 20,000 on drugs and food daily.
Alitwala emphasizes that the failure by the hospital to provide meals to the patients is a big setback. She says that in most cases they are forced to suspend medication to patients especially with HIV when they learn that the patient has not eaten.
She also cited insecurity as another challenge in the hospital. The mental health unit relies on the guards at the main gate, which is a very long distance from the unit.
“We have two nurses on night duty and there is a time when a patient wanted to strangle a nurse. They had had to call security personnel at the main entrance, which is very risky,” she said.
The 5 billion Shillings facility, donated by ASSIST International, was commissioned in September 2011. It is equipped with cardiac monitors, ventilators, pulse oximeters and defibrillators capable of treating patients with critical illnesses of the lung, heart and kidneys.
It was expected to serve patients in eastern Uganda and reduce referral cases to the National Referral Hospital in Mulago. However, the hospital does not have the technical expertise to run the facility.
An ideal intensive care unit requires doctors with specialty in anesthetics, cardiology and emergency medicine. It also needs physiotherapists, dieticians, speech therapists and nurses. The role is nurses is however limited to delivery of medicines, prescribed by the doctors and monitoring blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels.
However, the ICU at Jinja Referral Hospital does not have all the specialists needed to keep it functional.
The hospital principal Nursing Officer Aceng Florence says that the facility requires at least 30 nurses to operate effectively. She notes that at the moment, they cannot admit more than three patients at a time due to shortage of staff. The unit has only three nurses.
In an ideal situation, according to Aceng, one patient should be attended to by at least four nurses, and 12 nurses should therefore be in place to work every 24 hours.
Christine Akello, one the nurses at the unit says that running the unit hectic especially when there are emergencies such as accidents. She notes that since the start of this year, the unit has admitted only 11 patients and others have been turned away because there are no doctors to attend to them.
Muhammed Khalifa Mbhete, the Jinja central division Councillor and chairperson of the health committee says that the state of Jinja hospital is generally appalling. He notes that every department in the hospital has an essential component missing.
However, like other units that lack staff, there is hope that the unit will get more staff following a request by the hospital administration to the Health Service Commission two years ago.