Kampala, Uganda and Lusaka, Zambia

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This month, I traveled for work to Kampala, Uganda and Lusaka, Zambia, all in the name of improved cancer control in country, with the aim of getting to know civil society in Uganda better and reporting to the Ministry of Health in Zambia the improvement to their population-based cancer registry. It was a very productive eight days, and eye-opening ones for me, having never before witnessed the environments in which cancer is treated in this part of the world.

While I saw little beyond the hotel and the cancer centers, the learnings were quite astounding. In Kampala, the Uganda Cancer Institute Cancer Centre is the only of its kind. Patients surround the building, breastfeeding, or looking for shade, as they await their care. Everything is located just near it, from the civil society organizations, to the cancer registry, to the tuberculosis facility. There are homes for some patients to stay on the grounds, laundry airing on the line. In Zambia, there is a school in the Cancer Diseases Hospital to educate the children with cancer there. For some, they may graduate to the next grade from their hospital ward.

While each has (recently) a working radiotherapy machine, the facilities are in no way comprehensive enough to care for the number of patients they are met with. And this is the part of the world where cancer incidence is meant to increase most rapidly. While the journey was brief, and sometimes difficult, it is the undeniable truth of the circumstances so many face, and the only motivation required to keep working in advocating for access to cancer treatment and care.

On a separate note, it also became clear how important it is to have road safety, particularly in Kampala. Not only did my colleague and I witness two accidents with 'border-borders', or motorbikes, as they occurred, but we passed the aftermath of two or three more. Trucks tipped over where long-distance drivers has fallen asleep and run off the road. Without street lights, and with wild traffic, these incidents occur every day. John, our driver during the one day we took to visit the source of the Nile, told me that Kampala was built to host 500 cars and, today, there are over 5 million. More come each day.

He also told me that a good salary, one that allows parents to send two kids to a private school, is about 300USD per month. "We're lucky," he told me, "because our soil is fertile. One thing, we will never want for food."