Cancer Patients In Senegal Face Lots Of Obstacles — Including No Working Radiotherapy Machine : Goats and Soda That's the situation in Senegal. The government has promised to buy new machines. But one cancer specialist says there isn't enough attention given to the disease.

Facing Cancer Is Even Tougher If The Only Radiation Machine Is Broken

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Cancer is on the rise in Africa, yet the ability to treat it is not keeping up. With sub-Saharan Africa's population fast approaching 1 billion people, there are only about a hundred full-fledged cancer treatment centers. And many of them have old, broken or inadequate equipment, as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has found in Senegal.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: If you happen to be a cancer patient right now needing radiation in Senegal, good luck. The country's only radiotherapy machine - indeed, for a long while, the only one in French-speaking West Africa - has broken down.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: This is Aristide Le Dantec teaching hospital, one of the oldest and largest in the Senegalese capital. Dozens of mainly women are waiting to be seen at a cancer outpatients' clinic. It's in this department that patients would normally receive radiotherapy treatment, but that hasn't been an option in Senegal since late last year. Doctor Mamadou Diop is in charge of the cancer institute at Dakar's Le Dantec hospital.

MAMADOU DIOP: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: This cancer surgeon, in consultation with his colleagues, made the decision to switch off the cobalt radiotherapy machine in December after it kept breaking down. He says it had simply become too dangerous for patients receiving treatment and technicians operating the machine.

DIOP: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: As a young intern in his final year of medical school in 1989, Diop saw what he called a revolutionary radiotherapy machine - for Senegal - being wheeled into the hospital. Today, it's just taking up space. Oncologist and radiotherapy specialist, Doctor Mamadou Moustapha Dieng, leads me to the treatment room.

MAMADOU MOUSTAPHA DIENG: This is a waiting room. Patients come here. This is the machine. You see it.

QUIST-ARCTON: It's eerily empty and echoey. I'm looking at a cream-colored, huge, very 20th century cobalt machine but it's kaput. The Senegalese government has promised four new radiotherapy machines for the country, including a replacement for this hospital. Until then, patients must travel to Morocco for treatment at the government's expense with help from the Senegalese Anti-Cancer League.

MICHEL DJERY DOGUE: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: Twenty-four-year-old Michel Djery Dogue twice had surgery for a tumor on his tongue last year and has just completed chemo. He's one of dozens of Senegalese booked for radiotherapy in Morocco. Dogue winds a scarf around his head, covering prominent scars from surgery on the side of his face and under his chin.

DOGUE: (Foreign language spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: "It's a shame I can't have my radiotherapy here in Senegal," says Dogue. Doctor Diop says the problem in Senegal - and elsewhere in Africa - goes much deeper than one broken radiotherapy machine.

DIOP: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: Diop says the Senegalese government continues to spend more time and money on infectious diseases such as malaria, which affect many more people and are comparatively inexpensive to treat than cancer.

DIOP: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: "I don't want to hear another word about high-cost cancer care," says an exasperated Doctor Diop. Diop says Senegal needs to fast-track training cancer specialists and associated personnel and set up efficient one-stop centers, where patients have access to all the treatment they need.

MADELEINE SENE: (Speaking French).

QUIST-ARCTON: The priority right now for widow Madeleine Sene is her only child, Michel Djery Dogue, the tongue tumor cancer patient. We want him to receive radiotherapy in Morocco and return home safely to Senegal, she says. That's what we're praying for. Clutching her rosary as if for comfort, tears well up in Madame Sene's eyes. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar.

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