Fatal cancer situation

With no cobalt-60, cancer patients in PNG are forced to seek costly treatment overseas or succumb to their illness.

The National Cancer Services at the ANGAU Memorial Provincial Hospital, in Lae, has been without the isotope, cobalt-60, to use in radiation therapy for cancer treatment.

This has been the situation for 15 years.

The Acting Director of curative health services with the Morobe Provincial Health Authority, Dr Steven James, emphasised that a multi-disciplinary approach is required to treat cancer.

He listed the main ones as surgery, where an operation is needed to remove the tissue with cancer cells; chemotherapy, where special drugs are used; and radiation therapy, where high-energy rays are used to kill cancer.

“All those three different modalities of treatment go together to cure cancer,” he stated.

“If it’s confirmed cancer then all those three modalities go together. Not only one modality can fully treat the cancer that has been diagnosed.

“The other component of radiotherapy is something which we are still progressively trying to bring back.”

Dr James said the cancer treatment facility at ANGAU currently has chemotherapy, which is supported by Kumul Petroleum Holdings, and the surgical component. 

The MoPHA has met almost all the guidelines set by the International Atomic Energy Agency to bring in the cobalt-60 isotope. The Authority is currently waiting on feedback from the IAEA after submitting its final documents on a surveillance system for the facility.

Dr James outlined that the first step was passing the Radiation Safety and Control Act 2019.

“PNG never had one so it was passed on the floor of Parliament and now, we’re working towards securing the isotope ourselves so in that way, it makes our treatment complete.”

The radioactive isotope that ANGAU had been using had outlived its time; hence, the source needs to be replenished for effective radiation therapy.

(The machine at the ANGAU Memorial Provincial Hospital that needs a new cobalt-60 isotope)

Carmella Gware