One of the major complaints raised by doctors in the course of their two-week strike is the dire lack of medical equipment such as X-rays in district and regional hospitals across the country.
A doctor told the Dar es Salaam-based television station, ITV, that there was no defence on the part of the government for its failure to ensure that there was at least one T-Scan in the country for the simple reason that one such machine was worth just one Toyota Landcruiser VX type.
What the doctor meant was that for a government that buys not only hundreds of such vehicles for its ministers, directors and other lesser officials, it should not fail to equip all its district and regional government hospitals with X-ray machines or buy several T-Scans.
The lack of such equipment and many others means that medical problems which could be handled by district and regional hospitals are unnecessarily referred to referral hospitals.
And the end result of such development explains the present congestion at referral hospitals such as Muhimbili National Hospital, Bugando and KCMC.
Just as the doctors were on strike, the Ocean Road Cancer Institute had its operations crippled by the lack of two major equipment, a Pet-Scan and radiotherapy machines.
The two machines went out of order three months ago and there was no proof that the problem had now been fixed. The lack of a Pet-Scan, which requires major repairs, means that the institute cannot diagnose patients on whether or not they have cancer.
Lack of a radiotherapy machine, on the other hand, means that cancer treatment for those already diagnosed with the disease cannot be carried out!
The absence of the two equipment at the Ocean Road Cancer Institute is particularly serious, considering the fact that this is the only centre which deals with cancer illnesses in the country.
Why nothing has so far been done by those concerned in repairing the Pet-Scan and Radiotherapy machines in the last three months is anyone’s conjecture.!
However, I would personally like to share my own experience with our readers as far as the dire lack of equipment in our hospitals is concerned.
Early last year I was diagnosed by an eye specialist from CCBRT with a cataract in my left eye. However, the eye specialist told me that nothing could be done on the eye by way of surgery until the cataract matured.
Four weeks ago, I went to the same doctor who had diagnosed my left eye with cataract for confirmation of the problem before my departure for Bangalore, India, for general medical check-up and treatment at Columbia Asia hospital.
As I had feared, the doctor confirmed the presence of the cataract in my left eye. It is however important to note that the eye specialist, using his miniature torches, found nothing in my right eye.
I flew to Bangalore on June 10, this year, and on my arrival in the southern Indian city in the early hours of Monday, on June 11, I immediately embarked on my medical check-up.
By midday on the same day, the verdict by the Indian eye specialist, one of the best in the country, Dr Elan Kumaran, was that my right eye had also a cataract.
I have described Dr Kumaran as one of the best eye specialists in India on the ground that two days before my departure for home, he personally told me that he was convening a meeting on Saturday June 23, 2012 of 750 top eye specialists in India. He said the roundtable conference which intended to deliberate on eye diseases, surgeries and other related issues was to be held in Bangalore.
And, unfortunately for me, this was the day I was supposed to be touching down at Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam. What is more, I was in his office-cum-clinic (within the Columbia Asia hospital) when one of the eye specialists called him to seek guidance on the nature of his presentation during the roundtable conference.
Given the state-of-the-art array of equipment for diagnosing eye problems that Dr Kumaran had used in the course of carrying out diagnosis on my eyes, I had nothing to say except to accept his verdict.
I’m quite sure that had that young Tanzanian doctor who later told me that he was in his 30s had the kind of equipment I saw in Dr Kumaran’s office he would have certainly reached the same verdict. But he had none.
After Dr Kumaran had told me that I had cataract in both eyes, I proceeded to explain to him what the Tanzanian doctor had told me - that the left eye could only be operated on after the cataract had matured. True to his medical professionalism, Dr Kumaran did not dispute the verdict reached by the Tanzanian eye specialist.
However, he explained to me that what the Tanzanian doctor had told me belonged to what he described as traditional surgery. He said latest medical technology on cataract surgery, which was global, did not require the maturing of the cataract for its removal.
What Dr Kumaran meant was that he could remove cataracts from my eyes if I wanted and provided I had money for conducting the surgery. The rest is of course history. For I went on to allow Dr Kumaran to operate on my left eye on Monday, June 18, and the right eye, one day later, on Wednesday June 20, this year.
But before each surgery I was required to sign a form that bore the names and telephone numbers of my next of kin just in case anything went wrong in the course of the surgery! I was somewhat pregnant with fear over the first surgery, which was nothing but a closed book for me.
As it is rightly said, fear is usually brought about by the unknown. Once one knows what is going to be performed on him, in terms of surgery, the fear melts away.
My fear over the first surgery was partly caused by lack of knowledge, on my part, on the latest surgery technology, but mainly because I had undergone surgery on both eyes due to a condition called glaucoma (pressure of the eyes) in 2002.
For those who may not know what glaucoma is, this is the worst of the 16 known eye diseases, and if not timely handled, mostly through operation, one can easily lose their eyesight.
What makes glaucoma extremely dangerous as far as eye diseases are concerned is that one’s eyes do not pain and on one unknown day the eyes simply go blind. It is as simple as that!
Personally I would not have known that I had the terrible disease had I not been driving. As days went by, I increasingly experienced problems when driving at night and on several occasions I had close shaves against cyclists.
Whichever type of spectacles I went for, the problem persisted. Finally I decided to see eye specialists at the CCBRT at Msasani in Dar es Salaam who came to my aid.
The terrible pain I went through in the course of the two surgeries at the CCBRT was such that I feared I would once again go through the same process during the cataract operations in this Bangalore hospital.
But I was utterly wrong! There was absolutely no pain with both operations. I went through them smoothly and for the first time I was able to enjoy the European Nations Cup, which was then still in the preliminary stages!
Before the two eye operations I could not read the names of the teams and the score line on television. However, after the operation, the world opened to me. I am now able to read those tiny words with ease.
The immediate question that came to my mind was: Why had Tanzania not yet introduced this technology in its medical services? After undergoing the 2002 surgeries, I later met a fellow journalist who had been one of my bosses at the Daily News in Dar es Salaam.
The Zimbabwean, Tommy Sithole, who presently works for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, as director of Development Cooperation, had also a glaucoma problem and was forced to undergo a similar operation.
But unlike what I had gone through, the journalist told me that he had not felt any pain in the course of the operation because his surgery was conducted through laser surgery.
What does all these portend to? It simply means that Tanzanians continue to be subjected to archaic, painful medical technologies which have long been abandoned by the rest of the world.
Therefore, while I may somewhat differ with our doctors over some of their demands, I however totally agree and support them when it comes to the improving of the working environment, including the purchase of modern medical equipment, technologies and training.
In conclusion, when Dr Kumaran said that the latest medical technology in cataract surgery was global, what he meant was that the all-important technology was not confined to India, that any country could introduce such technology in its medical services.
AttilioTagalile is a media consultant. email@example.com
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