Jamaica on track to provide world-class cancer care — Tufton

Monday, February 05, 2018

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IN recognition of World Cancer Day on February 4, Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton reaffirmed that Jamaica is now in a position to provide world-class cancer care to its citizens and visitors. This is as a result of a number of scholarships being awarded to Jamaicans to study abroad in specialised areas required for cancer care, as well as the opening of the first of two modern cancer treatment centres at the Cornwall Regional Hospital.

“With the technical capacity that we have in the doctors and specialists and those currently in training, as well as the new technology, we will have the capabilities right here in Jamaica to be among the leaders in cancer treatment and care in the Caribbean,” Tufton said.

The National Cancer Treatment Centre is equipped with, among other technology, a linear accelerator which is used around the world to provide targeted radiation treatment.

The Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund has also provided $63 million in scholarships to Jamaicans to study in specialised areas necessary for optimum cancer care. The CHASE Fund provided a total of 26 scholarships to four biomedical engineers, two medical radiation physicists and four radiation oncologists.

“Training was an important component of the project, because if we are to increase capacity, we must have the technical expertise. So beyond the infrastructure requirements, we identified the personnel that were needed to operate the centres. CHASE also committed funding towards the ministry's oncology nurses training programme for five years. So far 16 nurses have been trained as oncology nurses,” said Chief executive officer of the CHASE Fund William Billy Heaven.

St James native Deon Dick is one such Jamaican currently studying abroad on scholarship from CHASE. Dick is in her fourth year of a five-year PhD programme in biomedical engineering, with a concentration in medical physics, at the University of Miami in the United States. She said the specialised training that she is currently doing is not available in Jamaica, but is vital to improving the country's existing cancer care programme.

“With the major upgrade in cancer treatment equipment now available in Jamaica, the specialised training that we're receiving is important for the proper use of the new equipment. If you have advanced treatment equipment but no training, it is just as bad as having outdated equipment. Therefore the training will allow us to improve cancer treatment by targeting tumours more accurately,” Dick said.

She added that she believes that with the new technology and qualified staff to operate them, Jamaica will become comparable with other countries offering advanced cancer care to its citizens.

Upon completing the programme, Dick said she intends to return to Jamaica to join the public sector as part of the medical physics team, helping to develop a sustainable medical physics department in order to contribute to radiation oncology and to further enhance the development of cancer care in Jamaica.

Chief executive officer of the National Health Fund (NHF) Everton Anderson said partnerships were also formed with international bodies and organisations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and 21st Century Oncology to provide training to staff at the cancer treatment centres.

“A key component and arguably the most important component of any successful radiotherapy programme is having qualified personnel. Running a centre like this requires competence and quality through partnerships. With these international organisations, we have been able to train our staff to a high level,” Anderson said.

Anderson added that all requisite training, both overseas and onsite for all categories of clinicians, has been completed for the first centre to be fully functional. With this comprehensive training and the hands-on support given by the overseas clinical team, he said the centres are able to provide external beam radiation, image-guided radiation, intensity-modulated radiation and high dose-rate brachytherapy treatments.

The NHF provided a grant of US$10 million towards the establishment of the cancer treatment centres, representing the single largest donation made by the organisation. The second National Cancer Treatment Centre will open at the St Joseph's Hospital in Kingston soon.

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